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.

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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

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.

Fall

Fall Leaves

I’m missing the summer sunsets at 8 pm, especially since the sun now sets around 4:30 every afternoon. When I leave work around 6, the city is illuminated with the grid of traffic lights between skyscrapers, but the sky is pitch black. When it’s so dark that early, I want to come home, curl up on the couch, watch old episodes of Mad Men and make tapioca pudding, a remnant from my childhood.

We carved pumpkins for Halloween, I splurged on an expensive new pair of boots (they were on sale, but still a splurge) last weekend, and the leaves are falling. It’s fall and very, very soon, it will be winter.

Pumpkins

Restating the obvious: We’re Mac people.

 

Fall is beautiful, but I’ve always hated winter. Even though “winter” in Seattle means rain and 40 degrees, (instead of my Midwestern memories of snow, below-zero windchill, snow plows, mittens, blizzards, and three different ice scrapers) I’m not looking forward to it.

Winter in Seattle

Winter in Seattle

Midwest Winter

Winter in the Midwest

 

My dislike for the season isn’t helped by predictions of a harsh winter — that, and I live on a very steep hill, and Seattle drivers don’t know what to do in snow. Every morning I jaywalk across 4 lanes of traffic to the bus stop. When it snows for the first time, my morning commute will be interesting, assuming the buses are running that morning. Luckily, I still have a pair of snow boots. I bought them my last winter in South Dakota, on sale at Cabela’s, and I’ve worn them exactly twice. They are not fashionable, but they are warm, even in several inches (or feet) of snow.

Things I never thought about before living in Seattle

Next month marks two years since I quit my job, packed up my Honda Civic and drove the 1,500 miles to start a new life in Seattle. What better time than reflecting on how living here has changed the way I think about a few things?

Living in an educated city means you need a bachelor’s degree to be a receptionist.

I never considered that since about half of the city’s population has a higher education degree, entry-level jobs have more competition from over-qualified people. My generation is willing to work hard, but with the cost of living in this city, a receptionist job at $12 an hour is not going to pay for rent, groceries, student loan payments, a bus pass and the occasional drink/dinner with friends.

Nannies.

Last week I overheard a woman casually mention that her nanny potty trained her kids, and how thankful she was. She went to an ivy league university, and is a motivated, intelligent, caring and capable person. I respect her intelligence, and see that this was a good choice for her. I don’t want a nanny to potty train my (hypothetical) child, nor will I likely have the resources to pay a nanny. Interestingly, this shows she delegated a very personal task in the past, but doesn’t do a great job of delegating at work. Why do we do things at work that are so completely out of character?

Compost. And Recycling Guilt.

Where I grew up, people still burn their trash on farms. My university, with approximately 12,000 undergrads in a liberal town (well, liberal for South Dakota) didn’t recycle until a few years ago. In the dorms in 2004 (and in all my apartments until I left the Midwest in 2008) we would throw plastic soda bottles, beer cans and wine bottles in the garbage. Recycling wasn’t an easy option. No companies picked up recycling, and most college students don’t have the space or patience to store recyclables and take them to a recycling center.

In Seattle the city picks up our recycling every other week, and our garbage and compost weekly. The amount of garbage is much less than the contents of our recycling bin.  Living in such a green city has changed my way of thinking, even though I grew up in an eco-friendly household. My mom recycled, and did her own compost in the 70s. When I was a kid we would go on walks and pick up trash along the street in our small town in Northern California.

When I visit the Midwest now, I feel guilty that I’m not recycling and composting, because the infrastructure doesn’t exist. I always disliked styrofoam, but now I feel guilty the 3 times a year that I see it.

I have a soft spot and nostalgia for various Midwestern things. Except for snow.

This was unexpected, since I longed to distance myself from the Midwest. I’ll probably never own cowboy boots again, and it took months to find a plaid shirt I liked without feeling like a farm girl. I smile when I see a Midwestern license plate in traffic, or when I found a pub in Portland that serves my beer of choice in college. I still have several ice scrapers and my snowboots, although they haven’t been out of the box since I moved. No one in Seattle was more excited for our latest winter without snow. My first since 1993.

Being vegan.

If you know me well, you already know that I have been dating a vegan for several months. I got over the awkwardness of sitting at a sushi bar with him and I’m no longer self conscious when ordering Pad Thai with chicken. I never cooked with quinoa before we started dating. It has certainly been a learning experience. So far, so good.

Good Publicity

Last Saturday morning while sipping a large cup of coffee, I read an interesting article  in the Washington Post about Groupon. The company’s Groupawn, a 28-year-old who quit a job as a waiter in Chicago, is living for one year on nothing but Groupons. He’s not using cash; he’s bartered for clothing and food with Groupons. The spa deals are the most sought-after commodity, according to the article.

Although certainly not a plausible publicity stunt (or marketing strategy) for many companies, I think it’s a good idea for Groupon for several reasons:

  • They’re increasing awareness about their brand, and the Post article certainly didn’t hurt. The Groupawn is on Facebook, Twitter, has a blog and appeared on the Today Show.
  • Groupon is creating an exclusive member society. It’s like a secret club offering sales. Who doesn’t love a sale? And a secret sale? Even better.
  • The publicity stunt has taken advantage of a network already in place. This group of people is helping the Groupawn reach his goal: to use only Groupons, not touch money for a year and win $100,000. People around the country are offering to pick up the Groupawn, Josh, at various airports and give him a place to stay, in exchange for Groupons.
  • They know their audience and will save big. Instead of finding a celebrity spokesperson, Groupon found a normal guy from middle America. The $100,000 prize Josh might win is significantly less than a celebrity spokesperson would charge. And why pay a celebrity? Groupon is a service for the middle class, not celebrities. Oddly enough, the Groupawn will become a sort of celebrity, though he’s probably known better as the “Groupon guy” than by his actual name, or from a talent or hit song.

You can follow the Groupawn on Facebook and read about his adventures on his blog, “Live off Groupon.”

The future is brighter in the sun

Saturday was the first really warm, sunny day in a long time. I spent the afternoon at Golden Gardens Beach, soaking up some much-needed Vitamin D. Being at the beach is one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. I flipped through a magazine and didn’t think about work or stress or money. It was fantastic. And I hope I get to do the same thing next weekend.

Tonight, while walking around Ballard and Fremont, I realized that a lot has improved in the last two years. In June 2008 my salary was about $12,000 less and I lived in a town where Wal-Mart was one of two grocery stores. (And I’d been boycotting the corporation since about 2005.) I was preparing to quit my job, pack all my belongings in my Honda Civic and move halfway across the country. I had a moment of “Oh my god, what am I doing?” somewhere in Montana or Idaho. But I’m so glad that I took the risk. If I hadn’t, my life would be completely different.

Thinking about that time in my life was a good reminder that the things I do every day aren’t necessarily the things I’ll do two months from now, or even in two weeks. This too, shall pass. A friend who hates her retail job just gave her two-week notice and another friend’s sister had a baby about two weeks ago.

Things change, sometimes faster than I think they will. I just hope the sunny weather continues.