Monday, August 31, 2009

30 lessons learned in my 30th year

So, it's here. Today is my 31st birthday -- and my golden birthday, to boot!

While the thought of turning 30 last year initially caused me a bit of anguish (in fact, I long referred to it as "the first anniversary of my 29th birthday), I quickly got over it and embraced the big 3-0. And then my 30th year of life unfolded.

If you know me at all, you know that the word "unfolded" doesn't really describe the last 12 months, if only because unfolding is usually a fairly smooth, fluid process. It would probably be more accurate to describe August 31, 2008, through August 30, 2009, as resembling a can of marbles that gets dumped onto the floor, collected and put back into the can, only to be dumped out again. (The good news is that they're all in the can again, and I think I've found a pretty good lid).

From being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder last fall to losing a job I'd worked hard at for nearly seven years when it and two others were eliminated this spring, my 30th year was ... tumultuous. Would I want to do it again? I don't know. Does the gift of hindsight make me appreciate the events of the past year? Certainly.

As such, I've decided to compile a list of 30 things I learned -- or was reminded of -- during my 30th year of life. I share these in no particular order, as this post is largely a "brain dump" of ideas that have been rolling around in my head.

☞ Being good to others without even thinking about it is a blessing to others and to yourself.

☞ There are two true tests of your character: How you behave when no one's looking, and how hard you work when you know it's largely unappreciated by those who control your professional fate.

☞ No matter how old you are, you're still someone's kid. And a hug from your mom can still fix a heck of a lot at any age.

☞ In the event of major and minor life catastrophes, your family will always sift through the rubble and help drag you out. (My family rocks!)

☞ A positive attitude is the best gift you can give yourself. Surrounding yourself with people who inspire, encourage and recognize your good attitude is a close second.

☞ You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. Ultimately, the part you control is the more important part anyway.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
-- Viktor Frankl

☞ Trust your instincts. If you think something is off, it probably is.

☞ Financially, live like you could lose your job at any time ... because, well, you could. A healthy savings account and a low amount of debt will prove highly valuable if your income suddenly disappears.

☞ If you're diagnosed with a disorder -- particularly one that could affect your work, life and relationships -- devote yourself to learning about it. Read everything you can on the subject, especially the most practical and accessible books. Learn about the problematic behaviors to which you may be predisposed and how you can minimize them, but also determine how you actually can harness the disorder's typical effects and turn them into advantages. Also, recognize that those who have been or may be affected by the disorder's effects on you deserve an explanation, so explain and/or apologize as needed, but never use your disorder as an excuse. Do not exist under a shroud of secrecy and silence; it will only stress you out in the end.

☞ Sometimes, a typically devastating event -- like, say, losing your job -- can turn out to be just what the doctor ordered.

☞ Not having a job can provide a huge boost to your career if you use the time wisely.

☞ Good friends are a cure-all (especially good friends who'll share a bottle of wine with you. ha!).

☞ There's no substitute for good customer service. Its impact can be deep.

☞ Diplomacy does not make you a phony.

☞ A benefit of being sincere and truthful is that you never have to worry about remembering what you said to whom. The clear conscience is the best part, though.

☞ A true friendship is one that seemingly ended abruptly and badly years ago but somehow manages to pick right back up in its best place when you see that old friend again.

☞ The smallest thing can make someone's day in a major way.

☞ Being bitter takes far more energy than being gracious. Besides, being gracious is more fun than being bitter because it drives the people who expected -- or perhaps even wanted -- you to be bitter completely nuts.

☞ When you take the time to mentor young people, you'll most likely see them become high achievers, and you'll probably even receive sincere thanks from them. And it feels amazing.

☞ Being an adult does have its privileges. The option to have ice cream for dinner is my favorite of those.

☞ The most amazing people in your life might be the ones you originally found in the most unexpected places. (You know who you are!)

☞ Flying isn't that scary after all. (And now that I realize that, I'm making the most of it!)

☞ Look out for yourself; you're the only one who's obligated to do so.

☞ If you feel that someone in a position of power has painted a bullseye on your back, don't write that feeling off. It's real. And the more that person unsolicitedly tells you that you're paranoid, the more real it is, But don't crack. Continue to do good work and be pleasant. You'll feel better about yourself in the end.

☞ People who have reputations as being kind, fun and reasonable are capable of being quite the opposite, especially if you see through it and they know it.

☞ Buzzwords and corporate-speak do nothing to enhance your credibility.

☞ Everything happens for a reason. Everything. Don't question it; just roll with it. You'll be a better person for it.

☞ Self-awareness is highly underrated, but dedicate yourself to it anyway. However, don't obsess over it, or you'll drive yourself and everyone else crazy.

☞ Recognizing your natural talents and limitations and acting accordingly is wise and brave. Don't let anyone tell you it means you're not ambitious; in fact, the people who tell you it means you're not ambitious are probably in over their heads at jobs that they hate.

☞ If you take care of/help others when you're in a position to do so, you'll find that the universe "has your back" when you're the one who needs help ... especially if you weren't thinking about that when you were doing your good deeds.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Bob Dylan moment

Come gather 'round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin', then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

I had my Bob Dylan/"The Times They Are A-Changin'" moment yesterday. And it was surprisingly bearable.

Yesterday, for the first time in the last 14 Augusts, the start of Central Michigan University's academic year held no significance for me (aside from the fact that it was the first one that held no significance for me, of course).

I moved to Mount Pleasant, Mich., in August 1996. I was a 17-year-old (almost 18-year-old) freshman on a full academic scholarship. I still remember more things about that day than I should: Being the first one to arrive in my room. Getting antsy about getting my parents out of there so I could have MY room (and then feeling a bit lonely when they did leave). Playing The Refreshments' "Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy" as soon as I was alone -- the first CD to be played on my stereo in my room. Smelling roofing tar nearly constantly for the first several weeks (and the smell still takes me back). Having a room phone number that spelled a farm animal's name and therefore getting plenty of prank calls, beginning five minutes into my residency. You get the idea. I remember it really, really well.

And something amazing happened in the years that followed: I became a part of a community that I didn't want to leave. While most of my fellow May 2000 CMU graduates went to lunch or dinner after graduation and then stopped by their apartments to retrieve the already-packed U-Haul and get the heck out of dodge, my family and I moved the last of my things into my own apartment across town, and I prepared to start graduate school in the fall.

In August 2000 and 2001, I was in graduate school and was serving as an instructor at CMU. In August 2002, I began working full time in the university's public relations and marketing office (where I'd also worked as a student) right around the start of the academic year (in fact, last Wednesday would have been my seven-year anniversary). In August 2005, I started my first academic year in a new role in the office, having become assistant director of media relations the month before, and each August after that brought the traditional flood of meetings, welcome-back preparations and an overall flurry of activity that occurs when your job largely involves working with faculty.

But this August was/is/has been different, as the elimination of my job earlier this spring has, in essence, made me "just another Mount Pleasant resident." And while it's pretty weird to not be in the start-of-the-academic-year mix after having it be a part of my life for nearly a decade and a half, I'm okay with it. I had no meetings or after-hours mixers to attend last week. I didn't leave my apartment on Thursday -- the always-crazy move-in day -- because I didn't have to (which was really, really nice; I'm not going to lie!). I could hear the sounds of the annual MAINstage concert Sunday night, but instead of thinking, "Yep, this means the madness begins tomorrow!," I relaxed on the couch and relished the thought of a Monday morning completely under my control.

I'm not upset or angry about the changing of the times, nor am I letting myself be stuck in the past that could so easily have consumed me. I feel as though I've accepted it all with a certain sense of grace and perspective. Jesus Jones captured that sentiment in a song that, coincidentally, mentions Mr. Dylan:

A woman on the radio talked about revolution
when it's already passed her by
Bob Dylan didnt have this to sing about
You know, it feels good to be alive

I was alive and I waited, waited; I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
There is no other place I want to be

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Guest blogging excitement!

I know ... it seems odd that I'll be guest blogging elsewhere when my own blog has been a bit neglected as of late. Fear not; posts are cooking for right here in this very spot, too!

At any rate ... I kind of feel like this right now:

No, really. It's an honor and a pleasure to announce that I'll soon be featured as a guest blogger on two excellent blogs run by fantastic colleagues from the communications and social media realm:

"The Buzz Bin": Musings and analysis on marketing, buzz, PR and Washington, DC
Blogger: Geoff Livingston, whom I met in June when I attended his fantastic BlogPotomac social media marketing (un)conference in Falls Church, Va.

"Mengel Musings -- Socially Acceptable": Thoughts on communications, marketing, PR and social media
Blogger: Amy Mengel, whom I met in May when we were in Chicago for Ragan Communications' first-ever Social Media un-Conference and Brainstorming Summit; we had the chance to meet up again at BlogPotomac over the summer.

In addition, strategic communications advisor Dave Van de Walle of Area 224 in Chicago has invited me to contribute to a special vlogging project that I can't tell you too much about just yet, other than that I think it's going to be pretty neat!

Big thanks go to Geoff, Amy and Dave for inviting me into their respective spaces to share my thoughts!

I'll post links to these posts and projects when they go live.