This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
In one of the groups, I was seduced by a subgroup – Professions and Industries. Now this is hard-core – sort of like joining a gang except you’re not required to wear your pants below your underwear which, I think you’ll agree, is a blessing for all of us.
There are lots of things that you can do in a LinkedIn group. You can go to the Job Board to see what’s available; you can check out the Promotions for free webinars and upcoming events; you can search other members’ blogs; or you can join a discussion group on a specific topic. I gleefully started discussions of my own and participated in others. I made some interesting on-line acquaintances. And then one day I stumbled into the greatest LinkedIn Group of all time: The CAREER INSIDER NETWORK.
And I was home.
There’s no explaining it. This is a group unlike any other. Some discussion “threads” have strict rules. This one has no rules at all. We give each other advice (some of it actually worthwhile). We uncover recruiting scams and gleefully name names to warn others. We cheer each other’s victories – be it a full job offer or merely a 2nd interview. We dispense sympathy when an offer falls through. We are a support group! We welcome newcomers with open arms, but woe to the newbie who wanders into “The Thread” and attacks someone personally, because we are fiercely protective of our family unit.
Serious friendships have developed. People have met face-to-face as a direct result of this group. Members pass along confidential information privately when they hear of an opening that might be right for someone. We bitch. We cheer each other up. We occasionally tell “Knock Knock” jokes. OK, that’s not totally true. Sharn in Thailand occasionally tells KK jokes. The rest of us groan. Professional recruiters and employment consultants such as Rick in Los Angeles and Kim in North Carolina regularly dispense advice both publicly and privately to members, generously giving away what others pay good money to get.
Swifty in the UK tells us that outsourcing is such a problem over there, he fully expects the government to outsource the Queen to China. Mark Dennis in the Philippines is our resident wisecracker and pun enthusiast. Marissa in San Antonio shares great Tex-Mex recipies and George “Stud Muffin” Gurney tells terrible jokes but since he owns the discussion, there’s not really much that we can do to stop him.
This, folks, is social networking at its finest. It is different from “social media” where people use blogs and discussion groups to try to sell their products or drive traffic to their websites. And it certainly isn’t FaceBook, which I have always considered to be a strictly “social” kind of networking between friends.
This is one of those rare instances when lightning strikes; when all of the windows turn and line up perfectly. An unusual occurrence when a business group turns into a family while remaining within the context of conducting business. We in this dysfunctional little family are virtually all in the same boat. We are all formerly middle or upper-middle management types who have, as a direct result of the economic collapse, inexplicably found themselves unemployed, often for the first time in our lives. From that misery has arisen a support group unlike any other. With people from at least 20 different countries, we have forged a bond and discovered that frustration and disillusionment is the same the world over.
This is pure social networking on a business level. It’s not for everyone. But to quote Lynn, one of our newest members, as she said this morning, “I don't know what I would do without you all. I love this board :)”
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I make this distinction because in Chicago, as in many places, people get very defensive about their territory. In truth, it’s not really about geography but about the mindset that accompanies the geography. Rather like the famous 1976 New Yorker magazine cover that depicts a typical New Yorker’s point of view of the U.S., with everything west of the Hudson River lumped into one small barren blob.
In Kansas City it’s important to know if you are from the Kansas-side or the Missouri-side of town, because the Missouri side is chic but the Kansas side is not. Although my cousin Courtney claims to live in Cincinnati, she really lives across the river in Covington, Kentucky; but she would be as horrified if you referred to her as a Kentuckian as she would be if you had suggested that she marry her brother.
In Chicago, there are the city-folk, i.e. Chicagoans, and the suburbanites, whose suburb-names are not even differentiated in the city as anything other than “The Land Beyond O’Hare.” (O’Hare Airport sits just inside the city limits.) Chicagoans don’t like to go to the suburbs. They get lost. There are these vast expanses of nothingness, called “fields.” Very disconcerting. Then there is Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, whose 278 sq. mile parking lot has it’s own “Woodfield Mall Parking Lot, I Hate You” Facebook page with 3,887 members. Really.
In return, my Uncle Donn and Aunt Char lived in The Land Beyond O’Hare (OK, technically it was the suburb of Northbrook). They avoided the city like the plague. When Uncle Donn was forced to attend a dental convention at the Palmer House in Chicago, he hated every minute of it. Driving in the city made him nervous. Parking was always a problem. The prices drove him crazy. When they spoke of going to the “theater” they meant Drury Lane Dinner Theater in Evergreen Park to see the 156th revival of “Guys and Dolls.”
See, it’s a mindset. In business and in life, we don’t like that with which we are unfamiliar. We tend to do business with folks we know, which is why networking is so important these days. We want to see multiple references on your job application, hopeful that we will recognize one of them because we don’t like to deal with strangers. I am currently job-hunting and I keep avoiding “straight” for-profit postings, even though I was once President and CEO of a large Midwestern corporation with offices on both coasts. But that was years ago and now I feel more comfortable in the nonprofit world where I know where all the bodies are buried (one of them may be mine).
I don’t eat food that Norman Rockwell didn’t paint. My mother always read Roger Ebert’s review before deciding whether to join us at the movie (that way she would guarantee avoiding something that wasn’t upbeat). My son no longer dates, because he knows that eventually whomever-she-is will dump him. My husband has projects in the house that he has promised to fix for three years but has never even attempted, because he is worried that he won’t know how and he would rather be seen as a lazy bum than a failure.
Think of all of the things that we are depriving ourselves of because they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable or might make us appear to be less than competent or question our preconceived values. In defense, we mock the unknown as beneath us, uninteresting or tasteless. (My West End Avenue Manhattan friends, upon hearing that I had a ticket to see “The Addams Family” could not have been more appalled or horrified if I had intentionally smeared excrement across their white designer sofa.)
No matter the cost, we stay in our little boxes where it might be damn uncomfortable but at least it’s familiar. It defines us; who we are and what we do. It is our neighborhood, even if the geography is actually located squarely between our ears. Because, let’s face it, it’s pretty scary in our own neighborhood but it’s really scary out there in The Land Beyond O’Hare.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
This person is intelligent, articulate, and a friend. How could he possibly not understand what I said? I was very clear. Wasn’t I? Well, wasn’t I?
English is my mother-tongue. I have spoken it all my life. So I am always surprised when I say something very clearly and the other person hears something entirely different. Maybe it’s a simple language barrier: We both speak English but his is Mars-dialect and mine has a very distinct Venus-accent. Bad translation, perhaps.
And we weren’t even in conflict. Conflict communication can get really tricky. My thoughts go back to the office not so long ago when what I really wanted to say is, “Hey lard-ass, the presentation is tomorrow and Michelle suspects that you haven’t even started to write it, which means that she will be stuck here at midnight putting together the PowerPoint; so why are you busy posting a funny picture on FaceBook?” But I didn’t say that, because I am a caring boss who wants to empower my employees and constantly reinforce their self-worth to inspire a more team-driven end-product. Instead I said, “How’s the presentation coming?”
Polite. Inquisitive but not prying. Said in a friendly supportive tone of voice. But what he heard was, “Hey lard-ass, the presentation is tomorrow and Michelle suspects that you haven’t even started to write it, which means that she will be here at midnight putting together the PowerPoint; so why are you busy posting a funny picture on FaceBook?”
Strange. I didn’t say that. So he countered with, “Listen Bitch, stop riding me so hard. I could write this in my sleep and, besides, I’m taking a personal break here so why don’t you back off before I go postal.” No, actually what he said was, “Almost finished,” which meant that Michelle is probably right, and it’s not even started.
So in my best upbeat voice, while turning away, I said, “Great! Let me know if you could use a hand.” Which, in Kay-speak means, “Why do I even try to give these people more responsibility? I could have written this in my sleep.” And I go back to my office.
Given our tendency to hear what we expect to hear, miscommunication can happen easily. In addition, body language and tone of voice add heavily to the message being conveyed. I often tell my husband, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” He takes great exception to this, by the way, and always feigns complete innocence. Sure.
Most of us in the business world have taken some kind of seminar on communication where they teach you active listening, and positive spin, and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. We learn to respect the other person’s belief, eliminate ambiguity, and most importantly keep our communications non-confrontational.
“Constant kindness can accomplish much.” said Albert Schweitzer, “As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” Albert clearly never visited my office.
By the way, Michelle refuses to think of this as an opportunity for growth; she wants overtime for having had to stay after midnight.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I haven’t written anything lately because, frankly, I just don’t feel very funny. My heart is heavy as I mourn the closing of the Hawai‘i Women’s Business Center (HWBC).
I have been careful not to speak about the Center since leaving as its Executive Director last summer. But with its passing, I think that there are a few pretty serious problems that should be brought to light and discussed. They have to do with Washington bureaucracy run amok, the failure of community support on the most fundamental of levels and a political circumstance that makes it impossible for a federal agency to go to bat for a local not-for-profit organization that it helped parent.
The Hawai‘i District Director of the Small Business Administration (SBA), Jane Sawyer, was one of the founders of the HWBC. She and co-founder Cherylle Morrow, HWBC’s final program director have both done superlative jobs in holding things together through the devastating economic storm of the past couple of years. As far as I know, HWBC was the only free economic development center in the state whose mission was assistance to Moderate to Low Income (MLI) women.
This is a loss to me, personally, because I worked so hard to build the Center up and I have so much invested in it. The loss is overwhelming to clients who depended on the Center to assist them in becoming self-sustaining. But it is an even greater loss to small business in Hawai‘i and the community as a whole, whose government and financial industry have let them down once again.
(I hate acronyms and it pains my fingers to type them but there are going to be a lot of them in this article because the federal government is an organization that has never met an acronym it didn’t like.)
The Structure of the Operation: The HWBC had two funding mechanisms:
1. a national component, as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
2. a local component, as the Center is required to match all federal funding with local dollars
Congress created and funds the federal Women’s Business Center (WBC) program through an earmarked line in the SBA budget, much like the federal Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDC is similar but much older and better supported.
The Hawai‘i Women’s Business Center was funded in part through matching funds from the Office of Women Business Owners (OWBO), the division of the SBA that oversees the WBC program. Unfortunately, only about 30% of our funding came from the SBA and all of that was in “matching dollars,” which meant that we had to find outside funding for every dollar that was “matched” by the SBA – and then only for a limited amount each year. That still left approximately 70% of the HWBC operating budget coming from outside resources.
The Hawai‘i Women’s Business Center was unusual in several ways, all of which have to do with community support. Many WBCs are attached to their local Chamber of Commerce or other local economic development organization that provides on-site staffing. The Department of Economic Development in the administration of Mayor Mufi Hannemann was generous in allowing us space within a city-owned building at a substantially reduced rent. As much as that was appreciated, HWBC was one of the few stand-alone centers with no assistance from an on-site partner. (We did not share a receptionist, an accounting staff, pooled record-keeping resources, etc.).
Community Investment: Additionally, many WBCs enjoy strong economic support from their local banks, often as a part of the financial institution’s federally mandated Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) requirements. Much has been made of the fact that the Center opened in 1998 with startup money from American Savings Bank. True and appreciated. But it has been years since any local financial institution has made a substantial donation or grant to the Hawai‘i Women’s Business Center. This was always a mystery to me since all banks are required to reinvest in their communities by federal law. It is also to the advantage of financial institutions to see that entrepreneurs applying for SBA-guaranteed loans have been nurtured to a degree that their success is better assured.
How the CRA Works: The CRA was created by Congress in 1977 to prevent banks from excluding or “redlining” low-income or minority communities from access to credit. It was designed to encourage banks to meet the credit needs of the “entire” community in which they operate. In 1997 the ways in which banks could meet the CRA mandate were broadened to include investments in the community as well as loans. There were also provisions for special consideration of minority and female owned institutions and partnerships as well as broader interpretation of community investments aimed at economic development of LMI segments of society.
So What? As Dr. Seuss once said, “Things like this are important to know – and that’s why I’m bothering telling you so.”
At virtually every other WBC, they enjoy a partnership with a variety of local financial institutions through grants and donations. Some are programs to support a bank's CRA performance evaluation, others are donations from the banks' foundations. Either way, this makes sense to me, since non-profit WBCs help women start businesses (which will need a bank), improve financial literacy (good for banks), become self-sufficient and increase family assets (also good for banks and S&Ls). Additionally, the HWBC assisted clients with a variety of SBA loan applications as well as working to obtaining traditional financing through a local banks or other lending institutions by helping to develop a workable business plan, raise credit scores, and fill out complicated paperwork and other forms of assistance. All of this is good for banks both directly in the formation of services and indirectly by creating a stronger community economic base.
So why did Hawai‘i banks fail to support the HWBC in ways that other communities were able to take for granted? I don’t know. I never figured it out. This is not a criticism of the local banking industry. It’s just what’s so.
State funds: Unlike our sister-organization, the SBDC, which receives funding from the Hawai‘i Legislature through a line-item in the state budget, the HWBC has never been part of the state’s funding plans. Many other states have included WBCs in their economic development budgets or fund the WBCs through grants-in-aid. The state of Hawai‘i, however, has never given the HWBC a grant-in-aid, despite many requests. Why doesn’t the state support the HWBC in ways that many other WBCs are able to take for granted? I don’t know. I do know that money is tight and there have been practically no grants-in-aid given over the past several years. But even before the current economic crisis, the State of Hawai‘i has never seen fit to award a grant-in-aid to the HWBC. This is not a criticism of the state legislature. Once again, it’s just what’s so.
Federal Funding: When the SBA began funding the WBCs through OWBO, the allocation was $150,000 per year. In the two years that I was Executive Director of the HWBC, we faced significant and steady annual cuts in the per-center program budget. Annual allocations have now fallen from an average of $150,000 per year per center to as low as $80,000 per center.
During this same period, the demand for services increased wildly. Historically, small business creation runs in a counter-cyclical fashion to overall national economic health. When the economy is running well at “full employment,” fewer people are thinking of starting their own businesses. When economic conditions deteriorate and layoffs increase, people launch their own ventures in increasing numbers. WBCs are on the front lines of this situation; as the economy tanked, women turned to entrepreneurship as a way to provide for their families. Walk-in traffic increased dramatically at the very time when our funding was being cut.
Loan Programs: Between the initial funding pool enacted in February 2009 and three additional appropriations, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funneled a total of approximately $730 million to temporarily eliminate fees for SBA loans and increase the portion of each loan that the government guarantees, up to 90%. That has supported more than $27.5 billion in lending to more than 60,000 small businesses nationwide.
This was terrific news for small businesses in America, but it created a serious problem for already under-funded Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs) such as the Hawai‘i Women’s Business Center. TAPs are vital to the SBA program because small businesses such as one and two-man operations often need extra help in putting together a workable business plan, a fiscally responsible cash flow chart, an accessible back-up strategy and other tools required to guarantee that the borrower will be able to replay the loan in a timely manner. This is a labor intensive process on the part of the TAP and it is often accompanied by stringent time deadlines.
TAPs are required to attend seminars, participate in phone conferences and review reams of written information in order to learn the specifications of each different SBA loan program (I believe there are somewhere between five and seven different ones currently, including ARC). The TAPS then work with clients from helping them find the right program for their needs to actually submitting the paperwork. When the ARRA was first passed, it contained $25 million for staffing-up to meet demands for new programs. Unfortunately, not a cent of that money trickled down to the WBAs. The result was a LOT more work with another cut in funding.
Anyone who understands physics knows that you can’t cram 10 lbs of work in a 5 lb. bag. And, anyone who understands finances will appreciate how important the Technical Assistance Providers are to the program: A government-backed loan reduces the risk for the lender because if the small business borrower defaults, the government eats the guaranteed portion of the loan (in some circumstances, that’s up to 90% of the entire loan amount). So the less assistance small business folks are getting, the more likely they are to default on the loan. This would be a disaster for the federal government. This is federal bureaucracy at its most inept.
Buried in Paperwork: While we are on the subject of federal bureaucracy, let me point out that because of its legislated structure and funding, the WBC Program is complex. The paperwork is overly complicated and inefficient. In report after report, huge chunks of the exact same information is required to be typed into forms, in defiance of the federal Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980. During my period at the HWBC, I can honestly say that there were large periods when I was so inundated with redundant federal paperwork, I didn’t have time to do my job.
Untimely Payments: SBA grant payments are supposed to be made to the WBCs in quarterly installments (more or less). When I first came to the center in the summer of 2007, it was not uncommon for a Center to go four to six months (or more) without a payment. OWBO recognized that they had a problem and instituted new procedures designed to fix the problem. On September 20, 2007, Anoop Prakash, Associate Administrator of the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development testified before the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Prakash talked about “…grant disbursement backlogs and delays, and other customer service issues that have affected at least one-third of Women's Business Centers and have periodically placed them in difficult financial circumstances.”
Even after the restructuring that was intended to fix the system, testimony related to SBA Entrepreneurial Development Programs and the Role of Women’s Business Centers in an Economic Recovery submitted to the U.S. House Committee on Small Business on February 11, 2009, admitted that huge problems remained. “While there has been some significant improvement in the speed with which grant monies are disbursed, the paperwork burden remains exceedingly high – especially when compared with other federal, state and local procurement procedures that WBCs follow – and the program grant disbursements are not always made in a timely manner. In recent years many WBCs have waited months before they received the funds for the services that they were delivering throughout the course of the year.”
Can you imagine how difficult it would be to maintain reasonable cash flow in your business if your primary client regularly withheld all payments for half a year at a time? How would you meet rent and payroll? How would you continue to provide your services and products to your clients? How can any federal agency that purports to “provide business training, counseling and other resources to help women start and grow successful businesses,” withhold payments and behave in such an un-businesslike and unconscionable manner?
In the end, the loss of the HWBC is more than just unfortunate. It is a blow to small business in Hawai‘i and should be a serious concern, as it is indicative of several significant problems in both Washington, D.C. and in our community.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
“You can’t say that,” was their response.
“Why not? Isn’t it true?” Brad retorted.
“Of course it’s true. But nobody outside the industry understands that this is the way the industry has traditionally processed coffee beans. If we tell the public, our peers in the coffee business will be furious.”
They were dead serious. In the end, they chose to go with a much weaker campaign that sounded more like puffery than truth, because they would rather keep peace in the industry than sell more coffee.
I’ll bet you think that this is an unusual case. Not necessarily. I’m always surprised at clients who will pay good money to shoot themselves in the foot and then pretend that they are not limping.
Back when I was in the film production business, we were casting a spot for a water heater company. (Hey, they can’t all be big, glamorous clients. Some days it’s United Airlines and some days it’s water heaters; the bank just doesn’t care.) Anyway, we looked at a lot of actresses to play the nagging, harpy wife. In the end our client insisted on casting an inexperienced newcomer who, frankly, gave a crappy audition. We were mystified and none too pleased.
On the day of the shoot, the actress was so nervous that it took nearly two hours to get a decent reading of one lousy line. It wasted time and cost us thousands. But the client didn’t care because when she first appeared on set, ready to shoot her scene with her hair in curlers, cold cream all over her face, wardrobed in an unattractive bathrobe and ratty pink slippers, our client stood up and proudly declared in a loud voice that carried across the whole soundstage, “Yes! She looks just like my ex-wife. I hate her!!”
How that helped sell water heaters I will never know, but the client was thrilled and we all limped to the bank.
I used to have a wonderful friend, Susan Gillette, who was President of DDB Needham, a big Chicago advertising agency. One day at lunch, Susan admitted that, “We agency people award a million-dollar-spot to a director based on what he can bring to the party. We then proceed to spend the rest of the project trying to protect our egos and thwart his efforts.” Thank you, Susan. At last, truth in advertising.
I wonder if there are other businesses where clients pay good money to shoot themselves in the foot?
Sure there are: I recently worked for a nonprofit that was sinking deeper and deeper into financial trouble. Part of what I was paid for was the ability to raise money. But the Board of Directors refused to allow me to tell anyone of our problems. “Keep a positive attitude,” insisted the Board. “We have to look like a winner.” If we had been a high-profile player on the New York stock exchange, that attitude might make sense. But when you are a nonprofit that depends on grants and contributions for your sustainability, it’s hard to go to a grantor and say, “We’re just great. Everything’s terrific. Couldn’t be better. And by the way, could you please give us a big sweaty wad of money? Please? Not that we need it or anything……”
Bang bang, they shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my client shot me down...
(with apologies to Sonny Bono, as I limp slowly into the sunset)
Friday, April 9, 2010
One might ask the more obvious question, “Why is she asking me? Has she not noticed that I, myself, am currently out of work?” But that trifling aside, I have been a boss at various companies for about 28 years total, and I can definitely reveal the top 10 ways NOT to get promoted (if that’s your goal). In just the last five years, I have been faced with every single one of these situations with one employee or another. Seriously, folks! Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Talk stink about me in the workplace. Word will never get back to me and even if it does, I will admire your forthrightness.
2. Hide information from me. What I don’t know won’t hurt me.
3. Fight with your co-workers. There’s nothing like a constant stream of distraction to keep the productivity juices flowing.
4. Refuse to share your job skills with anyone else in the office. That way, when you get sick or go on vacation, no one will be able to update the website, or access the administrative calendar, or batch the credit cards or figure out your filing system. It may play havoc with the commerce but it will make them appreciate just how valuable you are around here!
5. Dress for comfort, not for business. Sure, low heels and a skirt might be more appropriate than fleece pants and tennis shoes, but you work best when you are relaxed. What do they think this is, a business?
6. Be late every day. You will know that you have reached your goal when your co-workers have a daily pool to see who can come closest to your actual arrival time. (Again, keep in mind that I’m not making this up.)
7. Adhere tightly to your job duties. If it’s not on your job description, why should you do it? It’s not your problem. And if you find yourself with extra time during the day, use it to check in with your grown daughter, write funny e-mails to your friends or play on-line solitaire.
8. Do a requested task when it is convenient for you, not necessarily as soon as I ask. After all, who am I to dictate your schedule?
9. Bring your problems to work with you. Share them with everyone – me, your co-workers, our clients. The more the merrier!
10. Don’t offer to help me with anything. If you had wanted my job you would have applied for it.
I hope that this has been useful to you. Personally, if I had a job right now, I would thank my lucky stars and not worry about crawling to the top until things calmed down. I’d hunker down, kiss my boss’s feet and cash those paychecks as fast I got them.
Meanwhile, keep those cards and letters coming. Next week’s blog: How many ways can I, as a client, shoot myself in the foot and still pretend that I’m not limping?
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
We’ve all heard that old phrase, “Failure is not an option.” Horsefeathers! Failure is always a possibility. The only way to avoid failure is by never trying and if we never try, nothing will ever move forward.
Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
Me, I’ve got experience up the wazoo. Horrific failures (my ex-husband comes right to mind). But it’s OK. Because I learn a little something every time I fail. And as we all know, going to school isn’t free. It costs something to go to school – money, time, self-esteem. But it’s a necessary process to avoid repeating something stupid, like marrying another scummy lawyer. (And, trust me on this, that’s a lesson that you want to avoid at all costs!)
The only guaranteed way to avoid failure is by never taking a chance. At the same time, the only guaranteed way to avoid success is by never taking a chance. The economy sucks (this is big news?) and the odds are against your success. People will disappoint you. They will break your heart. But what’s the option? To never experience the thrill of seeing your face on the cover of New York magazine? To never expand your company? To never find true love or the job of your dreams?
Roll the dice. Be willing to fail – it’s not the worst thing that can happen. After all, you could be married to a lawyer.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It turns out that women like to have someone clean up after them. This is not so important to a man, probably because he already has a maid at home that does that for him every day (it’s called a wife). For a woman, having someone make her breakfast is a huge treat. For a man, it’s just another Tuesday.
I don’t know about you, but one of the first things I do when I check into a hotel room is dump the entire contents of my purse on the bed (hopefully the second bed in the room). I never get the chance to clean out my purse at home, but in a hotel room, the night before the conference starts, I have time to do those things that I can't do at home.
For instance (and this may seem gross to some people, so just avert your eyes if you can't handle it) the second thing I do is cut my toenails. Yes! It isn't like I couldn't do it at home, but there is always something more pressing to do. But alone in a hotel room, I can do as I please. I can watch TV till 2:00 a.m. without anyone bitching at me about turning out the light. I can wander around naked without fear that my son will bump into me on the way out of the bathroom. I can order room service and I don't even have to wash the dishes afterwards.
I can "organize" my makeup, because in a good hotel there is always lots of room on the bathroom counter. My bathroom at home never has that much counter space. So I lay all of my makeup out for the next day, lining up my brushes and wiping the stray eyeliner shavings off the lipsticks with a Kleenex. I know that I am not alone in this ritual because it’s the exact same thing that George Clooney did when he checked into a new hotel in Up in the Air.
Another great thing about business travel is luggage. I have a confession: I am a luggage slut. I have stupid amounts of luggage. I like the “features.” The pop-up handle; the four wheels that spin in every direction; the multiple pockets with zippers…..ooooh, I love the zippers. I have a lot of black luggage, because then when you travel with multiple pieces, they all match….sort of. But lately my favorite is a bright red carry-on. I used to over-pack like crazy but no more. Now I can (and did) travel from my home in Hawaii to a mainland business conference and then directly on to a three-week vacation in Europe with nothing more than a carry-on. I’ve learned to co-ordinate everything around one color. Thus, when I travel I wear more black than a Muslim widow.
I’d like to say that I came upon this wonderful Hilton survey all by myself, but the truth is that I got turned on to it by a business contact, Carol Margolis, who writes about travel at Pearls of Travel Wisdom (you can find her link in “My Favorite Blogs” on the right side of this page). I like Carol partly because she always has good info but also because she is the only person I know with even more luggage than me. How can you not love any woman who actually features photos of her luggage collection on her website?
Anyway, you can read the whole article about the Hilton survey in Inc. online at
http://www.inc.com/news/articles/2010/03/survey-suggests-women-like-business-travel.html, but be prepared to be shocked when you discover the bizarre array of stuff that people steal from hotel rooms. We’re not just talking about the occasional robe (although Carol does admit that a particularly soft pair of Fairmont Hotel slippers “just fell into my bag …. seriously!”). According to this survey, 2% of the guests admitted to filching the iron, alarm clock, lamps, even artwork. Artwork???
In any case, I believe that the main reason women such as myself like business travel so much is that it allows us to pamper ourselves without feeling guilty. It’s the one time I don’t have to put someone else’s needs ahead of my own. For just a few days, I’m king of the castle and I’ll do as I please. Hey, maybe I'll take a big, long, undisturbed BATH! But you can be assured that I won't take the towels or the bathrobe. Hey, I have standards – they are low, to be sure – OK, real low, but still.......
All this talk about business travel is reminding me that I need to go out there and find a job – preferably one that requires occasional travel because my purse is getting out of control, my suitcase collection is lonely, and I have an extensive business wardrobe (I’m a bit of a clothes horse) that is currently gathering dust. Frankly, I’m all dressed up with no place to go. Bummer.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I’m not stuck physically, although if I gain any more weight or go another day without mopping my kitchen floor I may just get stuck there as well, unable to move my feet in the grime – much the same way that I am now unable to move my mind.
So, in the interests of continuing to provide good information to my readers (if I still have any readers left after this long period of inactivity), I am going to share my many helpful tricks to avoiding doing practically anything.
It helps that the Olympics are on, because watching all those bobsledders, and skaters, and skiers, and luge sliders is a full time job. And is it just me, or are those German luge guys just plain nuts? I’m happy for their five medals but still…. 95mph with no protection but a helmet? How crazy is that? In any case, as a proud citizen it is my patriotic duty to watch each and every competition, rooting for America. Plus it keeps me from being able to do much else right now.
Of course, if you are not doing anything then it stands to reason that your housekeeping is something less than spiffy. So there’s the problem of hiding things when you have company. Sure, when you’re as depressed as I have been you avoid having company as much as possible, if for no other reason than the general messiness of the house. But sometimes people do show up – maybe to watch the SuperBowl or the Olympics. How can you avoid letting them see how dysfunctional you are right now? The answer: Costco grape boxes! These things are not only free but they are amazing. They are really strong and will take a lot of weight. They run about 23½ inches by 15½ inches and they are technically nearly 5½ inches tall, but you really don’t want to fill them up higher than 5 inches because then it makes them hard to stack. And stacking is the best thing about Costco grape boxes. They have these four tabs that make the boxes interlocking. You can stack these suckers up to the ceiling!
So when someone is coming over and you haven’t the time or the mental capacity to actually go through all of that crap that has accumulated on every single flat surface in your house, you just sweep it into a Costco grape box. My personal system is to keep the surfaces separated so that you can later dig items out of the boxes more easily. The stuff from the dining room table goes in one box; the scraps of paper all over the coffee table into another; the magazines and mail balanced precariously on the chair goes into a different box; junk lying around the floor into another. See!! Brilliant. When I need something, I recall that I’m pretty sure it was somewhere on the dining room table. So you just go to the “Dining Room Table” box and dig thorough that. It actually helps a lot if you label the boxes as you stack them but there’s two problems with that:
1. It requires time and effort and the whole point of sweeping everything into Costco boxes is the elimination of time and effort.
2. The minute you start labeling them, there is a sense of “permanency” to the process. You are admitting to yourself that you’re not really going to immediately “unbox” everything as soon as your guests leave. Even if this is true (and let’s face it, it probably is), admitting it will diminish your self-esteem even further, make you more depressed and cause you to have to lie down….. some more….
So now that you have everything swept away, where do you put the boxes? Well, my current favorite is the garage. That garage will never see a car. My husband and I joke that our whole life is “somewhere in the garage.” Whatever we are looking for – our sunglasses, the 800-number to order a ShamWow, the title to the car, our overall sanity – is “somewhere in the garage.”
I didn’t used to have a garage. When we lived in an apartment in the city there was no storage whatsoever. So you know where I stashed the stacked-up Costco boxes? In the spare bedroom. You just throw a large white tablecloth over the stack, toss a flower arrangement on top and who is to know? Hey, when you live in an apartment you have to make due. I used to know a couple who kept a little studio apartment in Atlantic City. It was so small, that on laundry day, they pulled the tablecloths off of their bed-side tables and voila! One of the bed-tables was a mini washing machine and the other was a little dryer. Seriously. You make due.
Even worse, when I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, hiding the Costco boxes got more difficult. Where did I put them? In the shower in the master bathroom. Of course, that makes it harder to ignore them once the guests go home. But, hey, you make due.
I should mention that occasionally your crap is taller than 5 inches? The answer: The Costco Dulcinea PureHeart seedless watermelon box or the Tuscan-style cantaloupe box. It’s a full 7½ inches tall (for those extra bulky items). And the tabs still fit neatly into the grape box slots for stacking convenience.
I have lots of other tips for avoiding doing anything. You can put off laundry forever as long as you have lots of underwear. You have a choice. You can do the laundry and face all that work (2-4 hours minimum) or the next time you’re in WalMart or Macy’s, just grab another couple of packs of underwear (32 seconds maximum). You do the math.
Of course, these days the obvious way to avoid getting any productive work done is social networking. Between email, participating in LinkedIn discussion groups, Tweeting, making witty remarks on your friends’ FaceBook pages, and answering the DM’s you have received from your many “business friends” across the country….. well, it pretty much consumes the day. And you have to do this stuff because this is the way we do business in 2010. (Or don’t do much business in 2010 – I’m not quite sure.)
I could give you more tips, but all of this blogging is exhausting and now I have to lie down …. some more. Maybe I should double up on my Prozac. But that would require walking up the stairs. Never mind. I think the women’s figure skating long program is starting. I’d like to return a couple of important phone calls, but unfortunately I’ll be stuck lying on the sofa for the next three hours. It’s my patriotic duty.