Posts by Melanie

cat lady/music lover, genre agnostic

Reframing Challenges as Art

This week I started learning to cook and style my hair (thanks, YouTube!)

I have tried this in the past, purchasing Blue Apron and multiple hair tools, thinking that new purchases would motivate me.

When I started to examine past pitfalls and why I have given up on new endeavors, I realized that I viewed these tasks as chores, similar to taking out the garbage.

After reading this article, about the importance of art and imperfection, however, I was inspired to shift my view. Hairstyling and cooking are both creative activities. They are both tactile, requiring both hands and concentration but simultaneously allowing for daydreaming.

I have started to view these activities as art.  As rebellion. As an escape from the constant messaging that the world wants to put in front of us: advertisements, social media, dating apps, screens.

And as soon as I started doing that, it became so much easier to get motivated. I began to appreciate the texture of the foods against my fingers, began to even appreciate a dent in a curl.

Seeing it all as a learning experience, seeing imperfections as valuable, moves me forward.

Cut It Out

Career website The Muse recently posted an article suggesting that, in order to improve your life and keep your resolutions, you should focus on what to cut out of your life rather than what to add to it.

I like this approach because, while I am tempted to make 10-15 resolutions at New Years time, I can only realistically focus on 1-2 goals at a time. Therefore, applying this strategy to the list itself is very valuable because it helps me prioritize.

Additionally, removing clutter in your life – whether it is physical clutter or a habit that takes up valuable time – frees up resources. So work towards completing your goals starts to feel less stressful.

My deletions are as follows:

  • I will stop going out to eat during the work week.
  • I will clear out an entire day each weekend for self-care.
  • I will focus on one hobby per month.

Salesforce: A Reflection

I recently dedicated my career to CRM management within the Salesforce.com platform.

What I like most about this platform is that it has rekindled my love of technology and taught me complex skills in an easy-to-digest way.

A few months ago, I ran into a challenge at work that required me to use Visual Workflow, which is a drag-and-drop way to do complex, multistep process automation that would have previously needed coding (which equals expensive developers). This tool allows users to create forms, execute decision trees, loop through/create/update records, and perform some other cool functions.

After some trial-and-error, a few hours, and a few iced teas, I was able to build what I needed.

Then, as additional requirements came, I decided that Apex, Salesforce’s programming language that is similar to Java, may be our best bet. So, using the limited Apex I know, paired with articles on the message board (Success Community), I was able to translate my Visual Workflow into actual working code.

I have tried to learn to code before, but the syntax of Java and Python left me feeling overwhelmed. I think what is different here is that I am learning to code A) in context, in order to meet practical business needs and B) visually first.

I feel really supported in my journey to gain more technical skills. Trailhead has helped me tremendously in getting certified and the user-generated content in the community is really incredible.

Yoga with Adriene and the Benefits of a 30 Day Challenge

I’m that annoying person who wants to share everything she likes with everyone she likes.

So I want to share Yoga with Adriene. Actor and yoga instructor Adriene Misher creates free and by-donation yoga videos for YouTube. She reminds us of her humanity in a lovable way throughout the videos with cute catch phrases. Her programs are inclusive (she provides ample modification options so that you can start at any level) and always about “finding what feels good.” It never feels intimidating or aesthetically driven (i.e. for cool Instagram handstands.)

Most of her videos are 30-day challenges produced annually or ad hoc, focused on one target audience (e.g. “Yoga for Runners,” “Yoga for Back Pain,” and “Yoga for a Broken Heart”).

Here is her most recent challenge:

I think the value of a 30-day challenge, whether it be for yoga, coding, or cooking, is as follows:

  • It’s finite. You can picture yourself doing something for 30 days but sometimes cannot grasp a lifetime habit. The condensed nature tricks you into thinking that there is an ending, but you come out of the experience with a skill that you will most likely want to use in the future.
  • It’s progressive. Skills build on each other in a way that is not stressful or strenuous. For instance, a yoga challenge may start with a modified plank, then later progress to a plank, then to a side plank, as strength and balance grow.
  • The time demand is reasonable. Most challenges I’ve encountered have required anywhere from five to 30 minutes per day. For this challenge I would like to focus on consistency in time-of-day; I’d like to get my yoga challenge and blogging done in the morning before work if possible.

Gold Stars

I am reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, Rubin mentions how one of her primary motivators is recognition – the figurative “gold star.” This pushes her to work harder but also leads to some negative feelings when she does not receive the recognition she expects – particularly resentment towards her husband.

I am reluctant to blog about my experiences because I am afraid I am falling into my own “gold star”-seeking quest. Is mentioning that I am reading that book a “gold star”-seeking behavior in itself? Is mentioning that, inspired by the book, I cleaned the clutter from the flat surfaces in my room, a “gold star”-seeking behavior?

I don’t want praise. I don’t really want to give advice, either. I just want to share my experiences.

I will continue to write and try not to fall into the trap of navel-gazing or compliment-fishing. Wish me luck.

What to Expect from Working at a Startup

If you are considering joining a startup for your first job (or wherever you are in your career, for that matter), here’s what you can expect:

You will gain excellent time management and prioritization skills. In a startup environment, priorities can change in an instant. You may also receive requests from many people at once. These two common occurrences can help you stay nimble-minded and ready for the next challenge, constantly re-prioritizing to fit business needs.

You may be expected to take on various projects and tasks. In my first few years at a startup, I created press sheets, sent out mass emails, helped plan events in other states, and even traveled for work. My freedom to touch different aspects of the business eventually led to me learning the ins and outs of Salesforce.com and getting certified as an administrator.

You may be part of a roll-up-your-sleeves culture. I have seen C-Suite executives wash dishes and managers take out the garbage. There is no saying, “That’s not my job” in a young company. The culture at a startup is humble: it will pull any bit of “millennial” entitlement right out from underneath you!

You will get a crash course in strategy. As the business expands, leaders must have a growth strategy. Business practices that worked in a mom-and-pop shop may have to be adapted to a multinational company. Become acquainted with the people who are helping scale the business, as they can teach you a ton about finance, marketing, and operational efficiency within the context of organizational growth.

You will learn that you are the captain of your fate. In smaller companies, career paths are sometimes not defined. This can be a good thing! But you may also feel lost, because up until now you have had guidance counselors and college advisors helping you navigate your way. When you feel it is time for a change, you may choose to A) apply for a position internally B) pave a path for yourself based on your interests and company needs, if this option is available or C) choose to use your fabulous newfound skills at a different company.

Reflection

A few hours ago, I returned home from a trip to Austin, TX, where I rang in the new year with some old friends who just moved there.

This trip took place at an important juncture: in the short break between my old job and my new job.

I learned a lot about the kindness of strangers at work in 2017. These strangers would eventually become trusted allies and friends, and we would go on to have many adventures (like my first dim sum experience!)

Now, I need to pay it forward.

How will I do this?

Not sure yet.

Stay tuned!

App-countability

I have installed a device in my car called Snapshot by Progressive in hopes that I can save some money on car insurance (which costs an absurd amount of money in New Jersey for anyone with a less-than-immaculate driving record.) The device tracks my driving and beeps when I am not being a good driver (which, by Progressive’s definition, means braking hard.) It also logs times when you drive between 12 and 4 am, which are “High-Risk Driving Times.” All of this gets factored in to your discount (or lack thereof) at the end of your contract term.

I have found myself seeing this as a fun challenge and checking the corresponding iOS app obsessively. I check for my weekly average of hard stops. I pay attention to the smoothness of my braking and take the backroads to minimize risk of jerky drivers. I now pay more attention to the distance between me and the car in front of me; I will not let ANYONE get in the way of my discount.

This behavior-changing device got me thinking about ways that technology can help us gain awareness in other parts of our lives – particularly in the workplace. We have devices that track our steps and our posture, but what about devices that track how many times we undermine a colleague? How many times we complain at work? How many times we cut someone off in a meeting?

What kinds of self awareness-raising activities can we practice in the absence of this kind of technology? I like the method of tallying the number of days in a row I have done something, such as exercising. The positive feelings in making the tally mark create desire to make another tally mark  (for further reading on this, check out: The Power of Habit.) Likewise, the positive feelings around having 0 Hard Brakes in a driving trip inspire me to have 0 Hard Brakes next time I drive.

However, in order to really create behavioral change, you have to practice self-compassion. The goal is consistency, not perfection. Accountability tools are meant to raise awareness, not to make people feel inadequate.

Getting Lost in the Weeds (A Revival)

I love to write and I have a few projects that I want to continue, including this blog, a music blog, and spoken word poetry pieces.

However, sometimes I get stuck in this anxious decision-making vortex where I want to write  but can’t decide how, where, and about what. I get so worked up, in fact, that I end up not writing at all and browsing Facebook. Analysis paralysis.

I think it is better to move in some direction than stay in one place, even if that direction ends up being wrong. Even if that piece is unpublishable. Maybe there will end up being one line in there that I can use again, but that line would have never been written if I had not sat down and, well, written.

So I’m going to commit to writing something – whether it be a poem or blog post – every day. I will pick a spot in my apartment, and a time, and write for 15 minutes.

Here’s an excerpt from today:

 

i have to remind myself that 
the picture is more important than the frame
that a folder is just a holder, 
not a permanent home

 

Pride Commercials

It’s pride month.

HOORAY!

And that means a growing number of ads featuring LGBT people doing LGBT things. Some are amazing while others seem inauthentic and gimmicky to me.

My favorite so far:

This one just made sense. There’s no “shock value,” it’s tasteful, it’s about using a Google product to find the inclusive space you need to grow as a person. Yes.

And my least favorite so far:

Maybe the fact that I saw articles on this one before I actually saw the ad on TV ruined it for me. It was like, “LGBT Chobani Ad Has Surprising Twist” But nothing really happens in this commercial. It just uses surprise because most commercials have a man and woman in bed together. Blah.

What does everyone think of these ads? I definitely think it captures the “modern family” but I think brands should tread with caution and not make gayness seem like a commodity.