Yes, And: Things I Learned from Tina Fey

This week during my daily walk to work, I’ve listened to The Clash (Story of the Clash, Volume 1) or Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I find them equally inspiring for beginning the day at the office. Especially when the 20-minute walk is plagued by Seattle’s mix of rain and wind, I could use a boost or funny anecdote.

I bought Tina Fey’s book shortly after it was released in 2011. I never read it. Instead, I downloaded the audiobook from Audible. The thing is, in addition to being funny, the book has several things I can apply to my job and not taking myself so seriously.

1. Be a Yes Person. 

The rules of improv are simple. Agree and Say Yes. Don’t say “no, we can’t do that.” Offer alternative solutions and make statements. Say “Yes, And” instead of saying no or explaining why something won’t work. Improv is based on saying yes, and then contributing something to move the action forward. There aren’t mistakes, there are opportunities. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to portray a cop on a bicycle — if the other person in the sketch interprets this as a hamster in a hamster wheel, you’ve suddenly become the hamster in the hamster wheel.

2. The Show doesn’t go on because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30. 

Don’t overthink it. The summary for a project I’m working on doesn’t have to be perfect. It needs to be in good, presentable shape (with no spelling or grammar errors) and it needs to be done before the deadline.

3. The Secrets of Beauty: Don’t wear what designers tell you.

Don’t wear what is in fashion just because it’s in fashion; wear what the designers wear themselves — simple pieces that flatter their body type. For instance, I avoid button-down shirts because I find them unflattering. I don’t own a plaid shirt (even as a Seattleite, these reminded me way too much of growing up in farm country). Skinny jeans are a go-to, but in 10 years, I’m not sure I’ll be wearing them.

4. Hold on to the successes. Move on from the failures.

Saturday Night Live had some classic sketches and some sketches that completely bombed. Similarly, in my work life some things go well, some things go very well, and some things go not so well/terribly off course. Savor the success, and don’t beat yourself up about the failures. Move on and try not to repeat the same mistake again. You’ll go on to have more successes and more not-so-great moments, so it’s important to move on after both.

5. And lastly, don’t care too much.

At the end of the day, I’m not an ER doctor. Lives are not at risk if I mess up, if I don’t work a 9-hour day, or if I don’t respond to a work email at 10 pm. If I do exceptionally well, I’m not saving someone’s life or livelihood. When I’m stressed and uninspired, I remind myself that it’s not rocket science or surgery. It’s closer to a combination of logic, communication, persuasion, project management, and process improvement. And trying not to portray sweaty palms over the phone or in the several hours of meetings each week.

Vacation Days Are Meant to Be Used

At 27 (soon to be 28) I’m thinking of all the places I want to visit before settling down. And I’m kind of drawing a blank. I haven’t taken a vacation since a few days in December, to visit my mom around Christmas. I’m realizing now after months and months of rain and gray weather that I should visit some sun and sand next year, sometime between January and March. I’d like to go back to Europe, but where? with who? To be determined… Below are a few places that I want to visit or go back to in the next 1-3 years.

  1. Austin, Texas
  2. Chicago
  3. Hawaii 
  4. Alaska
  5. NYC
  6. Mexico 
  7. Belize
  8. Paris
  9. London
  10. Norway or Denmark

Learning to be Alone

Learning to be Alone, a very relevant post from hellogiggles.com

Marketing vs. Privacy

I’ve never seen my father use an ATM card or credit card. Until a few years ago, I wasn’t even certain he had a checking account. He is the only person I know who carries $50 bills. And after reading the New York Times‘ article How Companies Learn Your Secrets, I can almost understand why my dad pays for most things with cash. He’s a big fan of Orwell’s 1984 and he’s concerned about privacy. He doesn’t shop online or use the Internet.

Meanwhile I used my ATM card for a $3 tall chai this afternoon and have made several online purchases in the last few days. I work for an Internet retailer… so the apple does fall far from the tree in this case. Judging by the NYT article, Target probably can most likely predict what brand of shampoo, toothpaste and face cleanser I will buy, along a random assortment of household goods, when I visit the store next. These are not secrets though, these are my purchasing habits.

A lot of companies invest energy, time, and financial resources in attempt to predict what customers will buy, then market those products to that customer. If it works, it can draw a customer in for years and thousands of dollars. If it doesn’t, the move risks offending customers and potentially losing the customer for good. The financial risk is high. So Target figured out a way to predict which female customers were pregnant, but realized the company could offend women if they marketed only pregnancy and baby items. A little randomization in the advertisements feels less sneaky, they discovered. This is legal, but still a bit creepy. Is anyone really shocked that companies like Target (and probably a lot of other places I shop at) track customers’ purchases, when given the opportunity and technology to do so? Doesn’t it make really, really good marketing sense? The creepy factor is still there, though.

The marketing story about Febreeze and how habits and cues related to brain activity were interesting side notes. The Febreeze marketing saga reminded me of my college days, when I was frequently spraying Febreeze on my black pea coat to get rid of the cigarette smell after a night out (the state I lived in permitted smoking in bars in the early 2000s, and I was too cheap to get my coat dry cleaned on a regular basis).

I’m part of the generation that grew up with video cameras and reality TV. My cohorts were early adopters of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. My generation wants to share with their friends and the world at large. In the 18-30 age group, oversharing is rampant in my humble opinion. And knowingly posting personal information is one thing. I’m not sure how I feel about a company tracking a woman’s purchases over time and then trying to identify if that woman is pregnant. I suppose the way around this is to pay in cash.

So this is the new year

January is the usual time of self-reflection/self-doubt/reinvention. What am I happy with? What do I want to change? The time of Top 10 Lists.

2011 had a lot of good things. Like snow shoeing and going to natural hot springs in Montana. And laying on the beach in Puerto Rico, basking in the sun and 80-degree weather (in November) with a $10 margarita in one hand.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

Going on a horse and buggy ride in South Dakota, where you can buy a dozen ears of sweet corn for $1, from the farmer’s wife. Receiving my great-grandfather’s pocket watch and a rotary phone as gifts from family members I love dearly. Spending Christmas with said family members.

South Dakota

On the farm in South Dakota

Watching one of my best friends marry her boyfriend of 8 years.

Seeing Fleet Foxes play at the Paramount, and visiting the Purple Haze lavender farm in Seqim, Washington.

Purple Haze

Purple Haze Lavender Farm

Sequim, WA

Sequim, WA

And getting a full-time job at a company that is doing pretty well financially.

 

The year had some not so great moments, too. The occasional day-long hangover. Breaking up with the guy I lived with, and consequentially moving for the third time in 10 months. (Pro Tip from moves #2 and #3: Hire movers. The efficiency & avoided heavy lifting/back pain were worth Every Single Penny.)

2011 was the first year I felt like I might have a few things figured out. And, simultaneously, I may have no idea about certain areas of my life. Isn’t that what being in your late twenties is for? The inconsistency of feeling 27, and simultaneously feeling 19?  So it seems…

In more age-appropriate areas of my life, I started a 401(k) and for the first time, I am living alone. It’s freeing, and a little daunting at times. I can dance to old Talking Heads and MGMT songs in my kitchen, but no one else is going to do the dishes. Self reliance is a learned behavior, and it is something I didn’t think about very much when I was living with my then-boyfriend. Cohabitating was definitely a learning experience, with its own pros and cons.

After an eventful 2011, I am not making predictions for the new year. I just want to enjoy it. And travel.

work/life balance

It seems like 2 years since the last post. Actual time: less than 5 months.

I was right to be concerned about balancing 50-hour work weeks while trying to have a life outside of work. And the 8 or 9 hours in the office (followed by an hour or two of working at home at night) and trying to cook dinner and eat before 9 pm. I should have been concerned with how my new work schedule would impact my relationship with my boyfriend. Frankly I was crabby and, at times, quite difficult to share 600 square feet with.

The good news is, things are getting better. I think I’m finding my stride at work and learning how to have a life and a high-pressure job. Meeting friends for happy hour, getting an occasional pedicure and a massage once a month definitely help. I’m invigorated by new projects at work, and the team continues to grow. (Side note: why do sports phrases like “my team” have such an integral role in corporate life? If we are one team, who is our opponent?)

So I’m working on a work/life balance and taking a few vacation days next week. (Hello, five day weekend) I’m trying to ration my paid time off, in case I want to fly home for the holidays, or to a beach between November and February when the Seattle gray is just too much to take. Paid vacation is one of the most beneficial things a company can give. The New York Times article mentions a study that found the anticipation of a vacation can improve your mood, though happiness drops to regular levels after the vacation ends. Taking vacation days can improve your productivity and lower stress (obviously). I firmly believe that vacation days are infinitely better than weekends, mostly because I don’t get paid for weekends, but vacation days seem to evaporate so much quicker than weekends.

Amazonian

Today was my official first day at Amazon.com. This is the result of a calculated risk I took in August, when I decided to quit a full-time job for a temporary contract job. Today is just the beginning of higher expectations, new challenges, and a very demanding job.

My day started with a 4-hour orientation session on the company’s South Lake Union campus. Orientation reminded me of college orientation and the sense of uncertainty about the future I had at 18, and how I had no idea of what my college experience would be. A year ago, I had no idea that I would be working for Amazon, and I wouldn’t have believed it was possible a year ago. I wonder how much I will change – and how much the company will change – in one year from now.

I’m excited and nervous for the new phase in my career and my life. How will I balance 50-hour work weeks while trying to cook dinner and eat before 9 pm? What about attempting more than 6 hours of sleep a night? Is this possible?

I’ve been plagued by self-doubt since I began working for such a large company. I’ve always feared failure and had high expectations for myself. The corporate life stirred these doubts daily, and often several times a day. The stakes are high, and now I feel like the expectations have been raised again. I’m proud to be working there, and really enjoy the work. I balance the self-doubt by reminding myself that I can do the job, and have been doing it for several months.

It felt like an achievement just to be sitting in a conference room for new hire orientation at Amazon.com. I feel a sense of achievement when I think about 10 years ago, when I went to high school in a town of less than 500 people, and five years ago, when I graduated from college and started working at a newspaper in my college town. Now I’m working for an international company.

To me, this is a bigger achievement than my goal before age 25: leaving the Midwest. (I moved a month after I turned 24) I moved for opportunities like this one, and that has made all the difference.

Moving In: Goodbye, steak dinner. Hello, vegan BLT salad.

In the past month, I moved, got a new job, and haven’t posted anything about the transition.

In January I moved to Capitol Hill to live with the vegan boyfriend. Goodbye, steak dinner night. Hello, vegan BLT salad. (I was skeptical, but it is really tasty. The recipe uses tempeh and has become one of our staple recipes.) Instead of vegan-before-six, I’ve become vegan-after-six (unless we go out to dinner) most nights of the week.

A few days into the great apartment search, we saw one I absolutely loved with hardwood floors, lots of sun, a view of the Sound and parking downstairs. The boyfriend decided it was not to be, after he realized the three words he couldn’t live with: No Dogs Allowed. We don’t have a dog, but the option was a must-have for him. Although we generally agree I am more stubborn, he wouldn’t budge. We argued, and I attempted to talk him into my dream apartment, with no luck. So the search continued, with the first compromise of many more compromises in our future.

After weeks of searching for an apartment with hardwood floors that was Fido-friendly, we finally found the place we call home. Three weeks later, we’re still unpacking the last few boxes, but it is pet-friendly. So IF we decide to get a dog, we won’t have to move in a year. I have no plans to adopt a dog in the near future, and I really don’t want to move again in a year. For now, we’re trying to adjust to each other (and our eating habits and schedules) without adding a pet to the mix.

Fitter, Happier, More Productive

I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions. I like to think in quantifiable, logical steps and set measurable goals, like going to bed earlier and getting up in time to catch the 7:44 bus, instead of the 8:08 bus. I really like to have realistic expectations. Generic goals to “work out more” or “be more active” or “drink less” aren’t easily measured for me, so I’m less likely to work to achieve them. I like to see progress, and feel like I’m moving in the right direction toward a goal.

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions dec30.jpg

Generically speaking, most New Year’s Resolutions are to be fitter, happier, more productive or manage finances better. A friend quit smoking a few months ago, and said that her logical next steps are to work out more and drink less. A helpful bonus to reward the good behavior is that she’s saving considerable money by not smoking.

I’m considering trying pescetarianism for a week, partly because that’s a compromise closer to being vegetarian, but still allows me to eat sushi. I’d like to prove to myself that I can do it. That famous stubbornness inherited from both sides of the family… I liked this post from Jezebel about eating Better, Not Less, which mentions eating better could be as easy as cutting out fries, or being vegetarian/vegan before 6 PM, and eating meat or dairy at dinner. I don’t think I am ready to try being vegan for a week, but I can cut out red meat for a week.

This month my immediate goal is finding a new apartment. I’m hopeful that I’ll find what I’m looking for in the apartment search next week. I’d also like to actually write a letter on my typewriter this year, and kayak on Lake Union this summer. Maybe do a day hike at Mt Rainier again. And start saving for retirement (I say that every year, but hopefully this year it will actually happen.)

Thinking about the short list above reminds me of things I did in 2010 that I never thought about a year ago, the unexpected things that paid off in the end. Like eating at a raw food restaurant in Portland (Blossoming Lotus – delicious) and quitting a full-time job for a temporary contract job. I was skeptical of both endeavors, but they proved to be rewarding experiences.

Snow and a Trip to the Mac Store

I haven’t written in several weeks, partly because my MacBook was in the shop for more than a week. (The week seemed like a month, as I was relegated to using my iPhone for my connection to the outside world. It’s a great device, but some things are just much better and/or much easier on a larger screen. Also, Grooveshark can’t be used on iPhone yet – but that’s another story.) The “macologist” help desk guys at The Mac Store did an excellent job, and my MacBook looks and feels like new.

Here’s a post on kids and technology that I found interesting. I frequently wonder if my generation will have early onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, since so many of my friends are constantly texting, tweeting, and working on computers 40+ hours at work, in addition to countless hours on their iPhones or laptops after work.

A few days before Thanksgiving, it snowed in Seattle. The morning started with a few white flakes that gradually started sticking to the pavement. Schools closed at the idea of snow, and during the evening commute, cars were abandoned on I-5. Capitol Hill residents started sledding down Denny Way with recycling bins, cookie sheets, and ironing boards… and drivers on Queen Anne hill slid down the hill, backward. It was branded “SNOMG” or snowpocolypse. Snow photos from the Seattle Times.

On Monday night, my usual 25-minute bus ride turned into a two-hour ordeal, which ended after walking across the Fremont Bridge in blowing snow. I wrapped my wool scarf over my nose and mouth, while wondering why I was so shocked at the cold. Two Seattle winters has clearly softened my tolerance for cold weather, and I have no love lost for snow.

It melted Thanksgiving Day and I was happy to see it vanish, much to the disappointment of my significant other. Being from Florida, he can’t relate to my hatred of snow (mostly, driving in snow, taking the bus in the snow, or being stuck on the bus for 2+ hours because it snowed.) Living on a steep hill makes me cautious, and I was happy to avoid an awkward carpool to a family Thanksgiving dinner, hosted in a suburb of Seattle. Of the roasted root vegetables, cinnamon mashed yams, and acorn squash with quinoa dishes that we made for Thanksgiving, the Quinoa-stuffed Acorn Squash was the favorite – a pretty easy recipe that we made again last weekend. Well worth the 1 hour of prep and cooking. The yams were good, too, but the acorn squash was delicious.