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.

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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.

An Open Letter to Companies Who Recruit Based on Prestige

To Whom It May Concern:

I really like your product and check your job openings sometimes. I like to see what kinds of positions you need to fill to make your company tick.

However, one line in your job descriptions put a bitter taste in my mouth.

In Requirements, I see that you need “A self starter” and “Attentiveness to detail.” Cool. However, a worthy candidate also needs “a degree from a top tier university.”

To be honest, Ms. Recruiter, filtering out 99.6% of candidates who did not go to Ivy League schools in the job description makes you seem shallow and reflects poorly on you and your whole company.

It says to me, “I am too lazy to screen the candidate for unmeasurable traits like culture fit, relevant experience, and ability to do the job. I will instead make a formula to weed out candidates who did not fit my definition of success when they were 18 years old.” It says to me that you do not care what I did for my university, only what I did in the months before it.

I get why you do it, though. It doesn’t take a Harvard grad to realize that people from prestigious schools are desirable. According to a study by Kellogg School of Management professor Lauren Rivera, hiring managers at law firms, consultancies, and investment banks use a candidate’s ability to get into an elite school (Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale) for graduate or law school as a litmus test for intelligence. Here’s the kicker, though: the study found that it did not actually matter to the decision makers how the candidate performed at that school, just that they got in.

Quite frankly, I am mostly concerned for you. You are missing out on diversity, on recruiting a workforce that is representative of your user base. You are missing out on the person who learned valuable skills managing a drugstore while going to school full time or the person who did not do so hot in high school but found his niche planning alumni events for his fraternity.

But hey, at least you’re being transparent about your biases.

Best,
Melanie

“I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi

I used to think that investing was only for people in suits who work at Goldman Sachs and that planning expenditures was only for traditional households with a mom, dad and two kids, who, as a family, plan out expenditure of every cent (“What’s the Cheerios budget like for this month, honey?”) After reading this book, however, I realized that my ~*SELF CENTERED MILLENNIAL GENERATION*~ can get huge returns just by doing what we do best: being “lazy” (automating payments) and entitled (negotiating prices and salaries).

I Will Teach You to Be Rich is a six-week plan that teaches millennials (and really anyone else) to manage their finances in a funny, not-scary way. Ramit Sethi, a personal finance blogger and entrepreneur of IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com, delves into how we can save money and even invest without feeling guilty about spending on things we like.

The book covers:

  • How credit scores work + cool tips to raise your credit score fast with a few phone calls
  • Perks of credit cards and how to choose one (travel insurance, extended warranties, points programs)
  • Opening online savings accounts to earn up to 10x more interest than a big bank
  • Saving for a purpose (vacation, wedding, etc.)
  • Creating a budget based on fixed costs and investing that allows some wiggle room for ~*FUN*~
  • Automating deposits to your savings account so you don’t even miss the money
  • Budgeting without sacrificing things you love by giving up things you didn’t like that much anyway
  • Making the most of a 401(K) (company retirement account)
  • Opening a Roth IRA (another retirement account that is super easy to open and can just chill and roll with the punches of the market)
  • Why you shouldn’t be afraid of “investing” and how some “experts” are quacks
  • Practical nuggets like how to afford your wedding, whether home ownership is right for you, and how to earn more by negotiating your salary and/or starting a side business

I really enjoyed this book and made a lot of quick, free changes right off the bat. Little changes (“small wins”) such as increasing my credit limit (to lower my debt ratio) made me feel confident to make bigger changes, like paying off my car.

Every 20-something needs to read this book. It’s everything we didn’t learn in school. The $10 you will spend on it (or you can “cut costs mercilessly” by going to the library) turns out to be way less than you would spend on a financial advisor. In fact, it is probably less than the interest on your monthly student loan payment.

New Years Resolutions

Here is what I would like to accomplish in 2015. Because I usually forget my resolutions by February 1st, I resolve to give monthly updates on my progress.

1. Discover new music. My musical tastes are stuck in 2008, high school melancholy included, and I would like to learn about and possibly see some new artists live. I will ask my friends/Facebook for recommendations and listen to radio stations for my favorite genres. Anyone want to exchange Spotify playlists?

2. Run a half marathon. In 2014, I signed up for a half marathon but gave up when my training fell off track. This year I am taking it slowly with this program and not committing to an event until I am 1/2 or 3/4 of the way through training.

3. Eat healthier and spend less money on takeout. I will learn to make a few basic dishes. I also know that decisions are a weak point of mine, so I won’t be hard on myself if, in the beginning, I have to pack the same thing for lunch every day.

4. Volunteer. I want to consistently volunteer somewhere because, after sitting in front of a computer 40 hours a week, I want to do something hands-on that feeds my soul. This month, I will check VolunteerMatch for places in my area that need help and reach out if one piques my interest.

5. Make a presentation. I work for a company that teaches public speaking. This year, I would like to use the skills we teach to make a presentation to a group. By the end of February, I will work out at least the “who” and the “what”: to whom I will be presenting and the presentation topic.

See you on February 4th!

You Have to Put Down the Duckie…

In a skit on Sesame Street, every time Ernie tries to play the saxophone, it squeaks. Taking into account suspension of disbelief because he is a puppet, it does so because he is holding his rubber duck in his hand as a “security blanket.”

So, as the song goes…

I saw this graphic on Sesame Street‘s Twitter yesterday and it hit me in a weird way. I think we all have our “duckies”: things we hold on to that keep us from getting to the next level in our lives and careers.

Having supportive people around us helps us feel able to leave our comfort zones. Sometimes it just takes a simple, “Why do you feel that way?” to get us open to doing something new.

On the flip side, when it comes to making a major change, there is always an opportunity cost and potential for failure. What if Ernie had started playing his solo in the wrong key? How embarrassing!

But what I am learning is that these calculated risks make us stronger. When they go well, they inspire more smart risks. When they go badly, they help our pivoting and bouncing back skills (and make for some funny stories later on).

What “duckies” can you put down to play some figurative mean blues sax? 😉

This post was originally published on my LinkedIn page.