Archive for November, 2007

What It Means To Be Queen

Friday, November 30th, 2007

So your boss is an idiot.  You think, Anyone could do a better job than he’s doing.

Then he gets kicked upstairs (or out!) and you get chosen to fill his shoes.


Welcome to the world of management.  AKA, it’s easier than it looks.  Fortunately for you, a book came out last year that will answer your questions, hold your hand, and inspire you.  It’s “The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch)” by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio.  There’s stuff about hiring and firing and everything in between.  The best features are periodic interviews with various women-in-charge.  The most inspiring, and the one worth the price of the book, is with Paige Perkins (pp 128-130).  She tells about a boss she had 20 years ago about whom she says, “I’ve never known anyone who thought me more able than she.” 

Anyway, it’s all there: leading by example, setting achievable goals, treating people professionally–all the things you wish your boss would do, all the things you gotta do if and when you find yourself in a leadership role.   

A most fun and useful book.  Worth a look.  Hey, that rhymes!

What Not To Wear

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Christina Binkley has a riveting article in the Wall St. Journal today comparing cashmere sweaters–a $99 one from Lands’ End and a $950 one from Brunello Cucinelli, an Italian maker.

She asks, Is there such a big difference between the two items?  She buys, she wears, she ponders.  Upshot:  The Lands’ End sweater is okay but lacks “sophistication” and tends to wrinkle.  She receives no compliments when she wears it.  The Brunello Cucinelli sweater has better style–buttons at the neck, flaring sleeves, silk chiffon lining.  She gets compliments.

Another, huge, difference is that the Lands’ End sweater was made in China; the company suspiciously refused to provide details about the factory or worker conditions.  The Cucinelli sweater was made in Italy by contented Italians who get 90-minute lunch breaks and work in a 17th-century castle. 

So, Brunello Cucinelli’s sweater is prettier and more socially aware.  Lands’ End’s sweater is only okay and possibly exploits workers.  But is the Italian sweater ten times better than the Chinese one?  Christina poses but does not answer this question. 

Working Girl has a way to avoid this dilemma entirely.  Don’t buy new clothing.  Buy your clothes at consignment shops.  It takes a bit of persistence but you can find very cool stuff in consignment shops or thrift stores.  Benefits:

  • You’ll discover you can afford “better” brands than you would normally be able to buy new. 
  • Because you’re risking less money you’ll take more chances; this develops your style sense. 
  • You won’t have to wonder if something will shrink or pill–it would have done so by the time it reaches consignment. 
  • It’s green–you’re recycling! 
  • It’s fun.

Hints:  Visit consignment shops in the ritzier parts of town–richer women buy better clothes and get bored with them sooner.  (Even the Goodwill outlets in higher income neighborhoods have great stuff.)  Don’t go when you’re tired.  Don’t spend too long in any one store.  You can’t return stuff so be absolutely sure it’s perfect.

Shopping consignment is a great choice for women who need to build a work wardrobe and who are low on cash, socially aware, and/or thrifty.  Working Girl, who is just really cheap, buys everything except underwear and shoes in consignment stores. 

And she gets compliments. 

It's Not All About You

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

(This gets around to the topic of punctuality and tardiness, really.)

He didn’t call me after our coffee date; what do you think that means?

She didn’t include me on the distribution list for this morning’s meeting; what do you think that means?”

They didn’t pick up their garbage can for two days; what do you think that means?”

It meant:  he didn’t pick up the phone; she didn’t copy you on the memo; they temporarily forgot about their garbage can.  The great majority of the time, it means just that and nothing more. 

The thing is, we tend to look at what other people do and extrapolate it back to us.  He didn’t call you because he noticed that spinach in your teeth.  She didn’t include you in that memo because she’s trying to undercut your position at work.  Your neighbors left out their garbage can, in plain view of your living room window, because you didn’t invite them to your Fourth of July barbecue last year.  Working Girl hears stuff like this all the time.  Here’s what she always says:

Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, people are thinking more about themselves than they are about you.

So, circling back to punctuality, you’d think Working Girl would have been smart enough to conclude that MOST people’s lateness has more to do with their own issues & struggles than it does with power jockeying and whatnot.  The good comments from Tania, Susinda, and Rachel brought this home.

Tardiness.  It’s still darn inconvenient, though.

Fat, Dumb, And Happy

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Not as good as Big, Dumb, and Lucky but pretty good!

Jared Sandberg, no doubt optimistic about once again exploiting the pessimist vs. optimist angle, points out that “Pollyannas can be annoying, exhausting and sometimes maddening because they can get away with so much.”  (This from his column today* in the Wall St. Journal, possibly inspired by his colleague Robert Lee Hotz’s piece on optimism a short while back.)

And, oh yeah, it’s so true that the only thing worse than mindless optimism is mindless optimism that turns out to be right.  However, Jared brings up a possible reason why:  optimists succeed because the pessimists (i.e., realists) working for them are busting their butts to make it happen.

A system that works well for all, an optimist might conclude.

But to the pessimists of this world, who are probably grinding their teeth right now, here is some small consolation:  Studies have shown (and Working Girl is not going to take the time to provide a link here–she’s supposed to be working) that intelligent people rate themselves as less intelligent than they really are while less intelligent people rate themselves as more intelligent than they really are.  What does this have to do with O’s versus P’s?  Because it doesn’t take a big stretch to equate optimists with the, ahem, less intelligent folks. . . . . .after all, if you are the kind of person who’s not smart enough to realize you’re not smart, you’re probably also one of those cockeyed optimists the rest of us find so annoying.

Or maybe this is too big of a stretch?  Could be.  Working Girl, normally O, is feeling a bit P this morning.

*Jared’s column available only to subscribers—hey, we thought the WSJ was going to start making online content free to all!

Better Never Than Late

Monday, November 26th, 2007

One of Working Girl’s huge pet peeves is tardiness.  Other people’s, of course.

Not from-time-to-time lateness.  No–what she despises is when a person is late every time.  To every thing.  Even more annoying: When said person seems to feel it is part of his/her charm.

News flash for the time-impaired:  Chronic tardiness does not make you seem charming.  It makes you look bad.  To wit:

1.  When you make people wait for you, you are in essence saying to them, “Your time is unimportant.”  So tardiness is more than rude, it’s insulting.

2.  Forcing people to wait for you gives them time to wonder why you need to pull this little power trip in the first place.  After all, you wouldn’t pull a power trip unless you felt you lacked power.  Would you?  When you think of it, chronic tardiness is a pathetic ploy of the powerless.  We are angry with you and feel sorry for you at the same time.

3.  If you actually are a powerful person–say the CEO of a company–and you are habitually late, you are doubly pathetic because even though you nominally DO have power you apparently for some reason feel deep down you don’t (else why would you abuse people under you by wasting their time?).  Yikes. 

4.  Okay, it’s not always all about power.  Another reason for being habitually late is you’re just a very bad planner.  It never occurs to you that there might be traffic to hold you up so you never build any extra time into your schedule.   Maybe once ten years ago there was no traffic and you made it to work in 15 minutes and so now you think, Oh, I have a 15-minute commute.  This complete lack of foresight and plain old common sense makes you look a bit, er, stupid.

5.  Okay, you’re not a power fiend and you’re not stupid.  But you are still habitually late.  Has it occurred to you that this is a sign you don’t want to do what you’re doing?  That you are trying to stuff yourself into some lifestyle not right for you?  Please, do us both a favor and reevaluate your life choices.

Working Girl has been told that her zero-tolerance policy toward the tardy is almost as obnoxious as being tardy.  But if you are someone who is never on time, think about what this is saying about you.  Consider revamping your modus operandi.

It’s not too late!

Hey, Thanks

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Big four-day weekend coming up!  At least, Working Girl hopes you are looking forward to four whole days off in a row.  That’s something to be grateful for.

If you don’t have four days off, she hopes you at least like your job. 

If you don’t have four days off and don’t like your job, she hopes you’re earning enough to live on.

If you don’t have four days off, don’t like your job, and you’re not earning enough to live on, she hopes it’s because you’ve chosen a low-paying job as an interim thing and are looking forward to something better.

If you don’t have four days off, don’t like your job, you’re not earning enough to live on, and you’re not looking forward to something better, she hopes you have just now figured out you need to chart a new path for yourself.  Start Monday!

Meanwhile, freak people out.  Thank your coworkers for working with you.  Thank your boss for employing you.  Thank your family for being your family.  Sit up and look around for other things to be grateful for.  For example, if you’re reading this, your heart is beating, your eyes are working, you know how to read, and you have Internet access.  That’s a start.  Bet you have other things to feel good about, too.  

See you in four days.  Oh, and thanks for reading!

It's Lonely At The Top

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

It really is.  And it can be not so great at the middle, too.

We’ve all been conditioned to think that promotion and advancement are automatically good.  But Phred Dvorak in a recent WSJ story (not available online unless you subscribe) brings up the interesting, and insufficiently emphasized, point that promotion can backfire.

Phred is talking about moving from the No. 2 position in a company to No. 1, but her core idea–that different roles demand “very different personality traits”–applies to jobs all up and down the ladder.  An example: you may be happy creating illustrations.  Because you’re happy you’re good at it.  So your excellence is rewarded by a promotion and you are put in charge of other graphic designers–in a heartbeat you’ve gone from artist to supervisor.  That’s a huge shift. 

Getting kicked upstairs presents another pitfall.  People who were once your co-workers and friends are now your subordinates.  If you think things can ever be the same, you are in for a big disappointment.  It’s even worse if any of your former co-workers were also going after that job. 

This all sounds so obvious but, in their elation over a fatter paycheck, few people stop to consider the possible downsides.  You really need to know who you are, what it is about your work that you like, what conditions make you happy, and what aspects of that you are willing to give up BEFORE saying “I do” to a higher position. 

Really think about it. 

Discuss it with people outside work. 

If you go, go with eyes wide open.   

So Many Jobs. . . .

Monday, November 19th, 2007

. . . .so little time.

Do you doubt this?  Check out “Odd Jobs,” a funny, useful, and inspiring new book by Abigail Gehring.  Abigail gives you the scoop on 101 ways to make an extra buck (that’s her subtitle).  Everything from personal assistant to mystery shopper to human statue to vacuum dust sorter (don’t ask). 

Have you ever wanted to work on a cruise ship?  Win big bucks as a game show contestant?  Model?  Keep bees?  Create gift baskets?  Abigail describes what it takes to do all those jobs, as well as the perks and downsides of each.  She even throws in some great stories of her own odd-job experiences (she personally worked 24 of the 101 jobs in the book).  And she’s only in her twenties!* 

What’s the best job in the book?  Ice cream taster.  Yup–it’s a real job (see page 94)!  Worst job?  Carcass collector.  Now that’s a tough way to make money–collecting and disposing of road kill. 

Most of the jobs are good, though.  The book ends with this lovely quote from Kahlil Gibran:

Always you have been told that work

is a curse and labor a misfortune. 

But I say to you that when you work

you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream,

assigned to you when that dream was born,

And in keeping yourself with labor

you are in truth loving life,

And to love life through labor is to be

intimate with life’s inmost secret.


*Abigail, obviously a hard worker, is also a nice person (anyone who can spend an entire summer caring for an Alzheimer’s patient must have a deep reservoir of kindness).  Buy the book! 

Thinking Big

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Here’s a thought for Friday:  Huge, exciting, challenging, unique goals are easier to attain than smaller, more ordinary goals. 

  • First, there’s less competition for the fabulous goals, because most peope think they have to be sensible and realistic.
  • Second, there’s more competition for the ordinary goals, for the same reason.
  • Third, a big goal fills you with energy because the potential payoff is big so you try harder.  A mediocre goal produces mediocre effort.

So what are you waiting for?  Think big, duckie.  Here’re some other goal-attaining tips:

Make your goals specific, not general.  “I want to live in San Francisco, work in the software industry, and buy my own condo” is a specific goal.  “Gee, I’d like to live in a big city someday” is not specific.

Write your goals down.  This will help you to make them specific.  And help you to do the next step, which is:

Figure out your mini-goals.  Mini-goals are all the things you need to do to get you to the big fabulous goal.

Figure out your daily goals.  You should do something that moves you toward the big goal Every Day.  These daily goals need to be doable and unintimidating.  Daily goals lead to mini-goals; mini-goals lead to the big kahuna.

Tell other people about your goal.  This has two effects:  (1) if people know what you’re going after, they might help you–probably will help you, because everyone likes and admires a dreamer, and (2) it will be harder to give up on your goal–think of the public humilation!

Think about what you might do when you’ve attained the Big Goal.  Weirdly, there’s often a little letdown when you get something you’ve been chasing a long time.  You should always be working toward a goal. 

Time To Get Real (Estate?)

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Rachel writes with this query:

“and what does a realtor do when after 20 years. . .she wants a more corporate environment and no more self employment tax etc.

advice is appreciated!”

Dear Rachel,

Thanks for writing.  Working Girl knows next to nothing about real estate (unless you count the fact that her parents were real estate investors) so she consulted Sharon, who did our realtor interview.

Sharon had a number of good ideas.  If you know anything about commercial real estate, she says, then you might want to explore companies (such as Burger King and Starbucks) that have real estate acquisition departments and help them scout out new locations.  Could be fun.  If your main experience is residential you might want to hook up with a real estate lawyer who may find your purchase and sale contracts experience invaluable.  You could also look to become an assistant to a high-producing agent who would offer benefits.

These sound like great ideas.  But maybe you want to get out of real estate completely?  After 20 years it could be time for a change.  If so, you are about to embark on a wonderful adventure.  You get to do all the work (it’s fun work) to identify your dream job–what it is, where it is.

Here’s what to think about:  A dream job is when you are doing the skills you are good at doing, and that you like to do, in the field that gives you joy.  It’s also good, of course, if your job reflects your values, earns you the money you need, is at the level of responsibility you want, and is in the part of the country you enjoy living.

How to put all that together?  As a first step, go out and buy Mr. Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute?”  It’s a classic for a reason.  Do all the exercises in the book–they are tremendously helpful.  Meanwhile, work on your network.  Because it really is “who you know.” 

One more thing:  You mentioned in your note “no more self employment tax.”  And the fact that your field is real estate, which as we all know is in a bit of a downturn, makes us wonder that you are contemplating a change because of some problem.  Which is not a problem!  But, when you are orchestrating any career change, it’s important to always look as if you are running TO something, not AWAY from something.  It’s all in how you frame it. 

The good news is that career change, at any age, is entirely normal and acceptable these days.  Have fun!  This is the beginning of an exciting new chapter in your life.