Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How was your weekend?

Did you do anything fun? Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? Start the Christmas Shopping? Family in town for a visit?

Pretty normal questions to ask after a long holiday weekend, right? Heck even, So what did you do last night? is a pretty normal conversation starter. Happens every day in every work place around the country right? Now try to have that conversation without mentioning your family. Never ever mentioning your spouse. And then take it a step further and never even ask the questions of your co-workers. Don't ask, don't tell. Don't talk about your life outside of work. Ever. Even when your job is protecting the freedoms of the rest of your country.

That's don't ask don't tell. That's what we are asking out of our men and women who serve our country. If you happen to want to volunteer to serve, making less money and let's face it with two wars going on, risking your life and you also happen to be homosexual you can do it, you just cannot ever ever speak of the people who mean the most to you back home.

People get stuck in these petty little circles where they try to decide what is best for our service men and women. You hear constantly that they might be "uncomfortable" with serving with openly homosexual people. Give me a break. One, how many of you have friends that have come out? Are you telling me that you had no clue up until the moment that they announced they were gay? Most of us know, we just wait to be told because we consider it polite not to out someone. Secondly, are you uncomfortable serving with a woman who finds you attractive but you don't? Or conversely a man? Now, I have been married since God was a child, but I do remember back to when I was single. I got hit on from time to time by guys I had no interest in. I told them no. And that was that. Trust me, you are not so attractive that a gay man or a lesbian woman will have no control over themselves and will throw themselves at you. Personally I would have been much more "uncomfortable" working with a bigot in any job I held than with a lesbian woman who thought I was attractive.

History shows the same arguments were made against desegregation and racial integration in the armed forces as well as against women serving that are now being made against openly gay service members. We figured out that was wrong, why is this such a stumbling block? It is an honor and a privilege to serve your country. It is also an extremely difficult job and not one that most choose to hold. If we have bright, talented, dedicated men and women volunteering to do this job then why would we tell them no? Why do we care what their sexual orientation is in the first place? We don't care if you are straight how about we don't care if you are gay either? Being gay isn't a disease and it's not contagious. So stop being such a freak about it. You like members of the opposite sex, great! Good for you! When did you make that choice again? Oh you didn't...so it's not likely that you are all of a sudden going to make a choice to be gay because Jimmy over there happens to be gay. And Jimmy isn't going to pursue you when he knows that you aren't gay, sorry, hun, even as wonderful as you think you are, Jimmy is going to pursue other gay men not you. That's the way it works.

Brent was in the Navy, my father was in the Army, Brent's father was in the Army and the Reserves. I don't speak from a non-military background. I understand what it means to serve. I understand what it means to be a team. I understand about unit cohesion. If you cannot imagine yourself serving with someone who is different than you are then don't serve. I won't ask you to, you don't tell me you will. How is that for don't ask don't tell?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The work is over...

I thought it would be appropriate to finish out the work series before the long holiday weekend so here we go...

Last I left you I was finishing school and working part time for Scott Dickinson doing odd jobs for his organization. I finished them both right about the same time and starting working as a professional massage therapist. Now, I am not going to talk about that job in this series since I am still doing it and there is another blog about that coming...maybe next week. Maybe. Anyway...though I thought I had finished with advertising and KFC I discovered maybe I wasn't so done after all.

As I told you before SN was a brilliant Ad Man. Really good at the client relationships, good pitch guy, decent ideas...but what he wasn't was a good business man. He never understood the balance that must happen between the comes ins and the goes outs. And eventually if you have more goes outs than comes ins you can't keep your business running anymore. As L/N started to dissolve AFA came back on the scene. They were in Portland pitching the A&W business and let the KFC group know they were interested in their business as well. After a few meetings it was decided that the co-op would leave L/N and move to AFA.

I met with Bruce Phillips during this transition and he asked me if I would be interested in coming back on as the account manager for the co-op. Seems as though when he asked the guys what they liked about their time with L/N my name kept coming up. That and I was local and the guys really liked the idea of having someone local. It was very flattering. Not only that my guys wanted me back but that AFA would consider hiring me. So I told him no way.

Shocked? Yes, I was flattered, yes the money would have been better than starting up a massage business, yes it would have been nice to be able to work from home. But I left advertising. I had no urge to go back to it at all. So I said, thank you but no thank you. And thought that was the end of my time in advertising for sure.

Then SD called me and we talked about it and he used the whole "personal favor to me" line. What are you going to do when someone who has not only provided you with a job for the past year so you could chase a dream but literally saved your life asks you for a favor? So I called Bruce and told him I would come back. Part time and on a temporary basis. Only long enough to get the business transitioned over to AFA and help the guys handle the changes that would be happening.

It turns out that this was the best decision for myself and for the co-op that I could have made. Remember way back when when I was a bookkeeper and spent a lot of time doing the forensic work? Well that was needed during the transition. There were financial records that needed unwound as well as the normal marketing and advertising items that needed taken care of along with the bridge between the co-op and AFA. I spent a lot of time acting as an interpreter in meetings. AFA has a HUGE chunk of the KFC market nationally and it works best for them to be able to do things alike in all their co-ops. My group had been an island to themselves for years with just me taking care of things in my own way. Now we needed to figure out how to make the spreadsheets they were used to looking at match up with the information they would be getting from AFA.

For awhile it meant doing everything twice for me. But it was really very interesting. I was sort of like a kid in a candy store. I had been handed the opportunity to dig through mountains of research, tons of information on other co-ops, other areas, other sales promotions. And the more I found the more I would dive in. It was very tempting for awhile to change my mind and stay. I went to Salt Lake City (one of the two AFA branch locations) for an orientation for me and a big A&W meeting for the agency and spent some time talking with everyone there and I almost, almost caved in during that stretch and asked for a full time job.

I am going to make you go back in your memory to when I first came back to L/N and I talked about how helpful everyone across the country was? Well Cathy Knowlson who handled the Seattle co-op at the time was one of the most helpful to me. She had no reason to ever help me, first off we were always in competition for each other's accounts. We had some cross over membership and it would have been a nice feather for either of our caps to take the other account. She also had been in discussions with SN before I came on about a possible partnership, but once I started (along with a misstep on SN's part regarding her partner) that idea fell by the wayside. So bottom line is she had every reason to let me flounder and fail and it would have been more beneficial to her to do so. But she didn't. She helped me whenever I called, she offered up help when I didn't even know I needed it.

So fast forward to this time period. Now Cathy has left her agency in Seattle and is with AFA in Salt Lake bringing the Seattle co-op and her media director with her. I spent some time with Cathy during my visit and she almost had me. We see the way things should be run in very similar ways. She saw in me someone that would be able to not only follow a process but be able to establish one as well. And face it, I am not shy about stating my opinion, so she also saw someone who would be able to stand up to Bruce and Bud and let them know when things needed changed as well. I would have been working for her and for Bruce and with my current co-op and then adding in others as well. It was very tempting.

But the one thing I was starting to realize was that it wasn't just L/N that I left, it was advertising all together. I will always be grateful for the lessons I learned, the friends I made and the experiences I had, but that chapter of my life was over. I had stayed informed on the business through my ties to SD during my year away from the co-op and frankly it was because I knew things were going badly at L/N. But now that they were with AFA and they had Bruce as their main account person and Cathy's knowledge of the area and Carrie as a media director they didn't need me. Then Carrie left. Sounds familiar right? What is it with media director's leaving when I am ready to quit a job? Ah, but this time I was prepared! What AFA really needed for their system wasn't a media director/planner Bruce and Cathy handled all of that what they needed was a media buyer. And I had one up my sleeve. Leata Sedlacek our world class buyer from L/N came on board at AFA and I was out the door.

I kept tabs for awhile through SD just to make sure everything was going well, I felt a strong sense of personal and professional responsibility for the group and for the move to AFA working out. But as I knew it would, things went along just fine. Bruce is a pro, Cathy is a genius, Leata is a wizard and the account is well handled and well managed. I knew I was finally done with that chapter of my life when the first advertising window for KFC came on television that was a total surprise to me.

So there you have it. How I went from gas station assistant to massage therapist in 472 easy steps. So what are the overarching themes here? What did I learn through all of this? I guess the basics are simple. As basics are. :-)

1. Work hard. No matter what the job is you need to do it to the best of your ability. Good things come to those that are willing to work for them.

2. Accept challenges. If you are given a chance to do something new, take it! You never know what can come of it, or what skill you can pick up that will be helpful later on.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for help. People like to help each other. And people will learn to trust that you know what you know and you are willing to find out what you don't.

4. Be yourself. You can't be anyone else, so you might as well embrace who you are and run with it.

5. Know your strengths. Play to what you do best and you will go far. Or you will stay in one spot and have a heck of a good time there!

6. Know when to leave. This lesson is the one that keeps eluding me. I am working on it. But know when it's time to leave a job and move on to the next one.

And on that note, thanks for sticking with me through this very long and very spread out series. I hope it was interesting to you, it was a nice walk down memory lane for me!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I will be back next week with more totally random but...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Toucha toucha toucha touch me.....

Rant time....

The first week of December I will go in to an office, I will disrobe, I will have a complete stranger take each of my breasts in turn in her hand and place them on a machine which will then smash it flat as can be and x-ray it. My privates will be touched, my body will be scanned and they will keep the pictures in a computer file that could be breached at any point by mysterious hackers out there that only live to find blurry pictures of people's privates to put online. And I will subject myself to this as I do every year because I would rather take every precaution to keep myself safe than not. I have no history of breast cancer, I have no family history of breast cancer, but I still have the test, just because it's better to be safe than sorry. Do you see where I am going with this yet?

I am not sure if it's because when Brent and I got married he was a Nuclear Engineer so the word radiation doesn't freak me out...or if it's because I am a massage therapist so the thought of touching someone or someone touching me doesn't make me want to run for the hills but I have to say all of the people squawking about the new airport security measures are boggling my brain.

I will tell you upfront that I have had the enhanced screening pat down before. In my former job I traveled a lot. Four different times I was pulled for the extra searches. Once for the quick check through the bags, once for the full unpack look at all of your things, once for the enhanced pat down and once for a positive explosive residue test. So when I talk about the enhanced screening I am not talking about what ifs I am talking from the experience of having it done.

Okay, so all of the upfront warnings are in place. Now I have to ask (cover your ears because this is going to be a cusser blog) What the fuck is wrong with you people? Are you seriously so squeamish that someone is going to see a blurry picture of your private parts that you can't walk through a scanner? And then when given the ability to opt out you also don't want someone to touch you either? Sure you know you aren't a terrorist but do I? I saw someone on the news today talk about how they should just do extra profiling...Okay, so what terrorist suspect do you want them to base their profile on? Ahmed al-Haznawi (9/11 Hijacker) or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (Underwear Bomber) or Timothy McVeigh? Okay it was not a plane but blowing up a building sure counts as a terrorist in my book.

Google those three and tell me how to profile against them based on looks alone. Only men should be screened? Oh no, wait, there are women suicide bombers out there as well. So what do you want done? Last Christmas when the Underwear Bomber struck (and failed, thank goodness) people were in an uproar! How could he have gotten explosives on just by hiding them in his jock?? Outrageous! Something MUST be done...except don't look at my privates and for goodness sake don't touch them! But SOMETHING must be done!

I have heard arguments about the dose of radiation you get from the scanner. Did you know it's 1/1000 the amount you get from a dental x-ray? I don't know about you but I get x-rays once a year in my dental office. And how often do you fly? And right now my iPhone is six inches from my hand where it normally is unless it's actually in my hand, or pressed against my head. And you think I am going to complain about a low dose of radiation from a scanner that could save my life? Oh the critics scream, but the risk is so minute that you will be on a plane with a bomber it's not worth it! It's not worth it? Really? So we should just do away with security screenings all together then? Don't be silly.

Okay, fine, radiation makes you squeamish. (Don't go outside, the sun is shining) So you have the ability to opt out. Now you get the enhanced pat down. Which makes sense don't you think? If you opt out of the breathalyzer when you are pulled over under suspicion of DUI you get a blood test, right? Do you think this is unfair as well or do you realize that there is a good shot that if someone doesn't want screened or tested there might be a reason why? Now I have read a lot about the "perverts" in TSA touching "your junk". Darling, it's called junk for a reason, they don't want to touch it any more than the bartender you were flirting with last night. But just like she had to smile and nod at your stupid jokes, they have to pat you down, it's their job.

As I said earlier, I have had the enhanced pat down. The woman from TSA was just as uncomfortable doing it as I was having it done. But we both survived the harrowing minute it took to do it. It's a pat down, not a cavity search. Over the clothes pressing their hand against your body to make sure all that is there is clothes. There is no groping, grabbing, fondling, or any of the other terms being bandied about. Again, I know, I've had it done. The woman from TSA apologized for any embarrassment I might have, I smiled at her and said I understood it was her job and we both made it out just fine. I know, shocking right? If the worst thing that ever happens to you in life is a moment of embarrassment while you get an enhanced pat down in the airport then you have lived a blessed life indeed.

When Christopher flew home last weekend I had people asking me if I was concerned he might be scanned or subjected to the enhanced pat downs. I'm not concerned about it in the least. I know the chances are very small that there will be a terrorist on his flight but I am so much more grateful that things are being done to make that remote possibility even more remote that a few seconds of embarrassment for him is fine with me. Real threats, no matter how small the chance are much more important to me than the overblown fake concerns the blogosphere is ranting about.

I was talking to my mother last week about the screenings and what she thought. Seems as though I got my perspective on the issue from her. She said, "I am 78 years old. If someone wants to look at a picture of me naked, well I already warned them, I am 78 years old!" Then she followed it up with, "I have had cancer, this is nothing."

And she is right. Scan or pat down, this is nothing. Get over it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The year of living busily...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Getting ready!
Current mood: excited
Category: Goals, Plans, Hopes

All right here we go! Orientation is tomorrow morning, then classes on Monday. Next week is going to be hell week for sure. Class from 8-2:30 Monday morning then straight to the airport and on to Houston. Get in to Houston at 1 AM, off to the hotel an hour away from the airport, up and in meetings by 8 AM Tuesday, meetings until 5 Tuesday then skipping dinner and the reception, back to the airport landing in Portland at midnight and back in class 8 AM Wednesday morning! Holy cow...work and school and family...and maybe some time to read in there too...wish me luck!

I should be fine most of the time, just when there is travel in there that it's going to be hard.

That's the mini-post I did right before starting school. Remember in the series I wrote about leaving Advertising and making the decision to go back to school when I talked about telling my main client (Scott Dickinson here on referred to as SD) I was leaving? He offered me a job working part time for him while I was in school and I accepted. Then my current boss (Scott Nowack here on referred to as SN) offered to pay for school if I stayed on at the agency. Well, I had a choice to make at that point, did I leave the agency and forgo the school tuition? Did I tell SD that though I appreciated the opportunity and had already accepted the job I changed my mind, knowing that I would be letting a friend down, not just a client? Or did I do the completely insane thing and decided that I could do it all?

Yeah, I went for the insane thing. School three days a week, in the office at the agency 2 1/2 days a week, working from my kitchen table on agency work and SD projects 7 days a week and studying 7 days a week. And that last line about being fine unless I was traveling? Four out of five terms the first week of term I had out of town meetings, so it would be class, airport, meeting, airport, class, rinse and repeat. And that's not counting the other meetings I had in between and around there. As it worked out that was probably my heaviest travel period of all of them in the agency and with SD. It was truly crazy. And I did it for nine months (yes, I know I keep saying a year, but it has a rounder feel than nine months).

The things I learned during that stretch are wide spread. Of course, I learned about my new career choice. The classes were much harder than I ever expected with a lot more science than I ever imagined. But this is the work series so I will stick with that focus.

Working in the agency it was really just more of the same, I was doing my job just in very compressed time periods and under very odd circumstances. SN did not want people to know I was leaving and so everyone was doing all they could to hide the fact that I wasn't in the office much and at times I was absolutely not available. I wouldn't take calls during class, for instance. Which doesn't seem like that big of a deal until you realize that I once had a client call me on a Sunday afternoon because they were in Portland and needed directions to a restaurant. That is the world of client services. You are ALWAYS available and if for some odd reason you don't answer your phone right away you ALWAYS call back within a few minutes. So it was an adjustment for everyone to sometimes have to wait for a full hour or even two for a call back.

The other tricky part was I wasn't telling anyone I was working for SD at the same time as SN. My non-compete stated that I couldn't do advertising for a client within a few years of working for the agency. Non-compete agreements are notoriously difficult to enforce and since I wasn't doing advertising work for SD but employee training items and random in house projects that just needed a project manager I wasn't overly worried about it, but I still didn't want to call attention to the second job. So I was in a constant shuffle of who knew what and when and why and did you know I was doing this and this or did you only know about this and not that but the other and how many of you know all of the things? And since you are confused just trying to read that last sentence imagine living it for a year.

Working for SD was really very interesting. The projects were never anything too taxing but they were always interesting in their variety. Basically what he needed was just SOMEONE to do them and honestly though he will deny this until his dying day, he didn't need to hire me at all he could have pulled almost anyone from his organization into the office a few days a week to fill in and get them done. He insists that my unique skill set (see all previous work blogs) made me perfect to do them. I understood the restaurant industry from working in the Advertising/Marketing side as well as from working in the restaurants. I understood the employee training pieces because I had employees and had been a trainer in previous jobs. I understood how to get him set up with the new KFCC online system because I could take the time to wade through the poorly written directions and use my contacts in Louisville to help me when I got stuck. Now I say that all of that is true, but anyone could have done the same things, they just might not have been able to do them while holding down another full time job and going to school as well. ;-)

So what did I learn from this job? Jobs? Here you go...I learned that you might think you are busy right now, but when you are REALLY busy you know. You also can handle much more than you realize. There were quite a few times through that year that I thought I was going to collapse under the weight of it all, then a break from school would come and I could just focus on the jobs, or a holiday would hit and everything would stop for a few days and I would be back up and running again. I learned that there could be a job out there that would use all of my random skills and I learned that there are people out there that want the best for you and are willing to make up just that job for you so you can pursue a new path.

And I learned that I never want to be that busy again.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Whew...and yee haw!
Current mood: relieved

Grades came today. Pulled my As for the term...yes I know I was all about accepting a lower grade and how it would be fine...but that's when I thought I wasn't going to be able to pull out an A.

One more week of term break then it's back to school...but this time instead of back to school with a full time job, a part time job and homework I will be down to one job and homework! Yee haw!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Self delusional? Me?

I know what I am and what I am not and for the most part I am fine with those things. Every once in awhile something sneaks by me that I would really LIKE to be, but it's not going to happen. But in general I know who I am.

I am not athletic. I never could do a cartwheel, I can't touch my toes, I don't run or bike or play a competitive sport. When Brent and I first got together and off and on through the years we played basketball against each other. I LOVE playing basketball but I am lousy at it. So I altered the rules. I don't have to dribble if I don't want to, Brent cannot steal the ball from me and he cannot jump to block a shot I take. Oh...and I can foul the shit out of him and not get called. He on the other hand must follow all of the normal rules and conventions and put up with being fouled. And with all of these changes in place I still lose by double digits. But I have a great time. And that for me is the point of the game.

Every once in awhile I think I want to be more athletic. Last year when I did the 5k walk I thought I might start running. I ran two days at the gym instead of my normal walking and remembered "OH yeah...I don't like to run!" And that was that. Back to walking. The reason I wanted to run in the first place? When the race first started the runners took off and left me in the dust. Though I am not athletic I am extremely competitive. Give me a contest I have a shot at and I will flip the switch and go all out on you. Board games, trivia challenges, memory exercises and I will compete and compete hard. But make it something that I have no shot at winning? I will still play but I won't play to win, I will play to have fun. Though even when I am playing to win I am playing to have fun.

That's one thing I am. I am all about the fun. I look for a game or some other way to have fun in everything I do. I made the choice a long time ago to be happy and I live my life in that direction. Which is why I tend to be very realistic about what I am and what I am not.

I am not skinny. I worked hard to drop a lot of weight last year and once I reached my goal I dropped even more. Then I was really close to being the thinnest I have ever been so I thought I might drop some more. Then I turned sideways in the bathroom one day, looked in the mirror and realized my butt was gone. For some women this would be a moment of sheer joy but I love my butt. Took me years to decide I loved my butt but once I did I decided that it's one of my best features (my curves in general not just my butt) and I have played them up ever since. I am round by nature and I had stopped fighting that, until last year. So I started doing some exercises to build up the glute muscles and bring back some of that roundness. Which then caused me to lose even more weight and push me closer to that thinnest number. I am competitive remember? The thought of putting my 41 year old self up against my 18 year old self was really tempting. Then I saw the pictures. Much like the pictures from our 2009 Disney trip reinforced the decision to drop the weight in the first place this batch of photos made me stop and think, enough is enough and too much is too much.

The difference between my 18 year old self at that weight and my 41 year old self? At 18 I looked good...at 41 I looked haggard. I remembered an article I read by Isabella Rossellini quite a few years ago in which she stated that as women age they need to keep a few extra pounds on them. It just looks healthier. Fills in the wrinkles, rounds out the face. At the time I thought she was just making excuses. Now I realize she is absolutely right. So I put back on about 6 pounds, my butt came back, my face filled back in and I look much better for it. My 42 year old self is not as thin as my 18 year old self, but I look damn good for 42. Vain? Sure, but I am vain and I am okay with that as well.

I am not a Type A personality. I can play one when I have to. I have had jobs where I really had to act like one. But I am not. I am not even sure if I qualify as a Type B. I am a go with the flow chick. I am multifocused (flighty or easily distracted if you wish). I like to see where the day is going to lead without a tight schedule and time line. I like to stop and smell the roses (or take a lot of close up pictures of them). I find almost everything to be fascinating and I like taking the time to explore. And I am very okay with that.

Now we come to the point of this blog. I know! It was a long time coming wasn't it? But I like to talk, and I am okay with that as well.

I don't cook. Now this isn't a big shock for people, most everyone knows I don't cook, it's a family joke in my house. But the thing is, I can cook and I am a good cook. I can read a recipe and tell you if it will taste good and also change and add things or take things away that will make it better. I can open a well stocked refrigerator and cabinet and pull together a made up meal that is yummy but never able to be recreated because I made it up as I went along. I actually like to cook as well. How is that for a shocker? I like making something, having it turn out well and knowing that I did that. There have been times over the last 24 years where I cooked much more than I didn't cook. When we lived in Idaho I even owned and used my own meat grinder to make sure I could get the lowest fat best meat mix for what I was making.

But what I hate? I hate meal planning. I hate deciding what to make, making a list, going to the grocery store and all of the things that need to happen before the actual cooking takes place. I hate planning out the time it will take to make dinner so that we are eating at a decent time and I can still get the other things done that I want to do. Having one car sometimes adds to this, hard to be putting dinner together and picking up Brent from work. But that's just an excuse. I could figure that part out. If I wanted to. But I don't like to do it.

But I keep trying. I decide that THIS time I am going to do it. This time I am going to plan and cook and I dig out the cookbooks and the note book. I make notes over what I have in stock and what I need to restock. I think about what I will cook. I think about what would be fun to try. And...then I go to Sushi Town. I have no idea what the block is here. I accepted a long time ago that though I would like to be Martha Stewart (or my personal Marthas Jenn Mele and Megan Clark) no matter how I try I am not going to find time or the skill to be crafty, my house is not going to look like a magazine layout and I am not going to be that person no matter how much I have wanted to be at times. I am okay with that. But this cooking thing...I keep going back to it.

So what is it in your life that you think you should be, that you really wish you could be, that you aren't but haven't let go of yet? And why do you think you haven't? I am trying to figure out the cooking thing. I will let you know when I decide to either give it up completely or crack the code on the planning or convince someone else to do all the planning and shopping. For now I have to decide where we are going for dinner. And I am okay with that.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I want to be a part of it....New York...New York!!!

We got the how and the why and a touch of the who, now on to the good stuff. The what happened and when.

This year I was much less nervous going to the meet than I was last year. I had already met a handful of the people that would be there, I felt like I had met Kelly and Kris from a series of spoof videos they used to do weekly and I had seen most of the UK hunters on a live feed from the last UK MH Meet. At least I had seen them after I made Skippy drag the camera over to where shy Julie was sitting. I also knew that when I met people in Toronto they were even cooler in person than they were online. I had no reason to think this group would be any different.

So the first person I saw was Corrie. As you all know she had been waiting patiently for a few hours while my shuttle took me to well..who knows where all we went before I finally got to the hotel! Corrie and I are enough alike that she could absolutely pass as my niece or much younger sister. She is just a touch too old, or rather I am just a touch too YOUNG to be her mother, but it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that if I had had a daughter she would be like Corrie.

Anyway I was very excited to see her face to face again. Like I talked about in the Toronto blogs one of the hardest things that happens when your friends are far away is when you just need to hug them. This year I just needed to hug Corrie. Since our meet in Toronto Corrie had been diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. We kept in touch online, of course, and I knew she was doing really well and the doctors are very pleased and positive but I just wanted to hug her and touch her and make sure she was okay. Happy to report she looks great and said for the most part she feels fine!

The next two to arrive were Skippy and Kat. Our Australian and New Zealand girls. I had just seen Skippy at the beginning of summer but it was still so exciting to see her again and to meet Kat was pure joy! I never thought we would get the opportunity to see each other face to face. New Zealand to Oregon isn't exactly an easy trip to make! This was also one of my favorite first meetings because Skippy is over 6 feet tall and Kat is under 5 feet tall. Just to see them walk in together was great! :-)

Glyn joined us and we were off to find some lunch and make plans for the rest of the day. Now as Americans we sometimes don't pay attention to things and start to take them for granted, those incredible opportunities that are presented to us on a daily basis. I think it must be the same everywhere you go. If you are in London you stop noticing all of the beautiful old buildings just brimming with history. If you are in Australia you find that the gorgeous scenery starts to just blend into the background. In America we tend to forget about such things as the delicacy known as Taco Bell. Skippy is originally from the US and every time she comes home she makes sure to get Taco Bell. There is nothing else like it anywhere else. So off we went to grab some Taco Bell.

New York is different than any place I've lived in a lot of ways, but the one that stuck out to me over and over was the lack of places to sit inside. For instance the Taco Bell we went to shared a space with a Dunkin Donuts and had three bar stools in the window for seating. That was it. Starbucks in Oregon have couches and lounges and tables and in New York, maybe two chairs and some bar-stools. That's it. So we got our food and headed back outside to find someplace to eat. Luckily we remembered a park close by and found our way back to it, unluckily it was run by a group of Mafia Squirrels. Seriously, these were the pushiest squirrels I have ever seen! Now Kat was THRILLED to see the squirrels (Skippy was too last year, until an unfortunate experience with a UK squirrel...) Australia and New Zealand seem to be lacking in them. So at first Kat was very excited. Then the squirrels wouldn't let us sit on the first bench we chose and chased us off to the other side of the walk. You think I am kidding, but these were TOUGH squirrels! Once we sat down they sent over the pigeons to spy on us!

So it could have been the jet lag or it could have been that the voices I was doing and the story about the squirrels I was telling were actually very funny...but either way we were all laughing and giggling and carrying on like the old friends that we actually were. It was a great start to a very fun weekend.

We ended up heading back over to the hotel to meet up with Shay and Kirsten as their flights had just landed. While we were there we caught up with the UK Four (Julie, Paul, Steve and Clare) and Adrian arrived as well! So in a hotel room that had been described as spacious on the website but we soon discovered was really space"ish" I got that same surreal experience of hearing everyone talking and joking and laughing all at once. The chat thread come to life experience. It was great.

After moving over to the second of our rooms in that hotel I got a chance to grab a quick shower before heading downstairs to meet everyone for dinner. While getting ready I had a moment with Kirsten that reminded me of Toronto very strongly. As we were in our own space"ish" room I was reaching for my coat and she was reaching for her bag and she said "Excuse me, Denise" the she stopped and broke out into a huge grin. "Excuse me, Denise. Because you are RIGHT HERE in the room with me! So I need to say excuse me!" Her real and virtual worlds just collided in her head and it was great to witness!

At dinner we were joined by James, Kris and Kelly. We didn't think Kelly was going to be able to make it Friday night so we were all VERY excited to see her. Hugs and squeals of joy and delight were abundant and in Shay's case so were the tears. She warned us that she was going to turn into a "big ole girl" so we had been expecting it. When Kris and Kelly arrived the first words Kris said to me were, "You are so pretty!" as my friend Heaven says..."I keep you." Kris then picked up Cat from the airport and she joined the group as well. It was all great fun, listening to people talk, hearing the accents, the laughter the stories about family and travel and MH. But as my friends from the UK say after my long travel day I was shattered and we were meeting at 8:30 to head out into the city so I was done. James pointed out that though it was 11:30 in New York it was only 8:30 in Oregon but I was done. So off to bed for me with only a quick wake up when Justin arrived for a hug and kiss and off they went to Karaoke.

I am sorry I missed the singing but not sorry I missed the 3:30 (Corrie and Cat) and 4:30 (Justin and Kirsten) bedtimes. I am not now nor have I ever been a night person. And as I only get around 3 to 4 hours of sleep in an average night I have to grab them when they come! When the group came back for the night, morning? we chatted some and then settled back in for some more sleep. Or in my case for some rest and the snore symphony! The next morning when I met Kat in the lobby before we headed out to the Empire State Building she let me know I had probably gotten off easy with the trio in my room as her room was filled with either the sounds of a jack hammer taking out the back wall or Steve snoring. Next time we decided to divide the rooms by snoring/nonsnoring. :-)

Glyn joined us, Cat decided against the early morning trip after the late night festivities and then Kat, Glyn and I were off to see New York City from the top of the Empire State Building. It was a beautiful view, couldn't have been a clearer day I don't think. Then Glyn and Kat were off to the museums to see the King Tut exhibit and then the Natural History Museum as well. I went back to the hotel to wake that group and head out to do some site seeing. Corrie, Justin and I headed for Times Square with Kirsten planning on meeting us there later.

Now while we were waiting to catch up to Skippy, Michele, Franco and Jacob in Times Square (which took much longer than we thought it would thanks to random text message reception)we got to see a Drag Queen Wedding, found Waldo and had a gourmet lunch from Walgreens. All in all not a bad way to spend some time. First Kirsten then Juice joined us in the square and we decided to give up on finding the other group and headed over to Toys R Us for souvenir shopping for those with little ones back home. Right after stepping inside Justin says..."Wait? Is that Skippy?" Ta Da! We found them! What are the odds of finding four people in Times Square? But we did! And then Skippy and Corrie compared texts that had been sent versus texts that had be received and we all wandered the toy store together. A quick visit with a Naked Cowboy a late lunch and then back to the hotel to get ready for the main event that night!

What can I say about the party? It was fabulous fun. Everyone shared stories about how they spent their day. Had more than a few drinks and even more laughs! A lot of pictures were snapped (and not just by me!) and a lot of hunting was done as well. It's the only group where it's not only acceptable but expected that you have your phone or laptop out and active at all times! And since the wifi connection was better in the hallway it was perfectly all right to excuse yourself from a conversation to wander out to change cheese or a trap. Remember what I said about last year and the devs? How we met them, shook a hand and then went back to visiting with each other. Well this year there was that but even better Franco and Jacob were able to mingle in and have fun as well. Michele was one of us before she was one of them so she was always comfortable with the rowdies. :-) But it was great fun to see them having fun as well. And to hear from all of us how much we appreciate the game, not only for the fun we have in playing it, but really for the fun we have in playing it with each other.

Oh and the live feed was up as well! Can't forget that! The devs set up the U-Stream feed they use for their broadcasts and we went LIVE FROM NEW YORK...It's Saturday Night!(yeah, I will never get tired of making that joke!) The excitement as you would see a name on chat that you knew was contagious! "Look!! It's Anthony!! Everybody it's Anthony!" And then there was Mel and Kaz and Doug and Krys and Travis and Sam and Rex and LouLou who Corrie and I tried to decide for awhile if it was our LuLu or not...turns out not, but I am sure who ever she was she was still excited to hear her name and comments called out over and over. And so many others. Chat moves so fast I have a new respect for the Devs and how they can keep up at all during their broadcasts!

It was a late evening for me (I cannot remember the last time I was awake and out to see the time change happen!) and an even later night for most of the rest of the group but it was still too short. My only regret for the weekend was how fast it flew by. I wish I had had more time time during the day to sit and chat with people and a little more time for more site seeing. Someday I will get back to the City and really take the time to see it, and someday I hope to be in a room with all of those wonderful people and really visit some more. Because it is really a thrill after talking with someone for two years to have them put a hand on your leg and say, "I can't believe I am sitting next to Denise Mastenbrook" and to be able to put an arm around them and say, "And I am sitting next to Julie Harrison!" It's just a great feeling and I am smiling just thinking about the whole trip.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

These little town blues....

So now that you all know how I got to and from New York are you ready for the story of why I went? As you all know from the stories about Toronto last year (I linked them in yesterday's blog if you are interested) I play an online game called MouseHunt and through the game I have met and made friends with people from all over the world. This trip to New York was to meet a group of them face to face.

MH New York was the group that formed to plan and arrange this gathering. James Cha and Kristijan and Kelly Spar made the plans, found a room for the gathering and set about making sure people knew about the party and were going to come to New York. Now the Toronto meet was all about the Nibbler party (sort of) but it was mainly an excuse for The Zoo to get together and wreck havoc on the city. The Zoo is a group of hunters (the people that play the game) that never met a boundary that they didn't want to push. Never read something that couldn't be turned into innuendo and pretty much just liked to have fun. MH New York is mostly made up of Page One Hunters (you should hear trumpets when I say that) or the Scoreboard Chasers or if you are being a little more cheeky when you say it...Point Whores.

Now don't get me wrong, there is some Zoo cross over action happening (like in calling themselves Point Whores) and this group is super fun as well, but they take the game itself a little more seriously. They figure out things like best hunting stats and return on cheese investment and maximum points and they are the top group of hunters in a game of hundreds of thousands. These guys are the gamers of the group. They are the ones who know where, when and with what you should be hunting. They don't miss a horn. They are active 24/7 with the spare phone batteries and vibrating watch alarms to prove it. And I have no idea how I ever got involved with them! :-)

I am the classic ADD game player. I cannot sit still in real life and I cannot do it in the game either. There are different locations you can travel to, you see, and I can spend just a few days in one location before I am bored and off to play someplace else. To be a truly good scoreboard chaser you must be willing to stay in the highest point location of the game and keep yourself active and online for days, weeks, months at a time. I tried for a two month period a year and a half ago. Quickly got bored and hadn't checked my place on the boards again until this weekend.

Part of this weekend was figuring out how I became friends with all of these hunters. Sometimes it was easy. Julie and I have been friends since almost the start of the game. We both recognized each other as "Moms", both quick with a joke, like to have fun, but at the same time the first instinct is to help someone out who needs it, to make sure if someone is feeling down you have a word of encouragement for them. And of course we came up with Blue Steel Cheese, it was a joke recipe we made for a cheese in the game and it was very funny. Trust me. Comedy Gold.

Shay I met in Zangetzu's Tavern. A long standing thread on the old boards where I probably met fully half of my friend list. She's a writer (like me except she is actually much more dedicated to the craft!) and has had as varied a life history as I have so we became friends that way. Glyn I knew from when the Acolyte mouse was the toughest mouse in the game to catch. Glyn had not only caught more than one for himself he had been the one to sound the horn to catch a few others for other people as well. I asked if he would do the same for me, he said sure and I will be damned if he didn't do just that! So hunting by the Marshall Plan has been my motto ever since!

Corrie, Skippy, Michele, JCS and Justin were in Toronto so not only did I know them from the boards but I knew them from the real world. Then it starts to break down a little. You look at someone and think, how did we meet? And everyone there is on my friend list through Facebook. In playing a game like this you add people to help you stay active. But I don't. I only add someone if I have actually talked to them on a thread, or know them through someone else in the game. I don't do random adds. Another reason I am a lousy scoreboard chaser! So let's see...Kelly I met through Julie, the same with Kat and Clare. Cat I am pretty sure I met through Shay. Kirsten I had to have met through status updates from mutual friends because she doesn't go on the boards. Paul and Kris got added through the spouse of someone I am friends with clause in my no random adds rule. And trust me they are random! ;-) James, Adrian and Steve came with the Spars and the number of PMs I was added to where we chatted. Eileen is a MHCC member and we were both chasing Halloween mice and both coming to New York so she was my most recent add.

And then once you figure out how you became friends with people you wonder how everyone else is tied together. Like I said, the main group was the scoreboard chasers. Kris is #2 in the entire game and quickly closing on #1. I believe we had 7 of the Top Ten there live and 8 once Anthony joined via U-Stream. It's hard to tell because the boards haven't been updated in a few weeks but I think that's the right count. But from there on out it's like a web. I know you from...we know them...we met on...we talked about...And then it gets kind of funny. MH New York was made up of East Coast of the US hunters, like you would expect. Me coming in from Oregon and Shay from Colorado so we have West and Central US covered as well and then...Canada (from Victoria to Toronto), the UK, New Zealand and Australia. How is that for variety? They do say New York is the Melting Pot of the Melting Pot right? :-)

So now you know how I got there and you know why I came and who was there with me. Tomorrow I will actually talk about the weekend itself. You know me, I never met a blog I couldn't turn into a series! (and yes I will finish the work series soon!!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It was an adventure!

If it's November I must be traveling to meet with online friends! This year it was New York City instead of Toronto . I will write about the people and meeting them in another blog. Today it's about the trip. And what a trip it was!

When the meet was first being planned I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but I knew I wanted to. After a little bit of online peer pressure (Kat was coming all the way from New Zealand, there was a group coming from the UK, when would I get this chance again to meet them) I found a decent deal on the airfare and worked the numbers and knew I was in! Then some things changed, I reworked the numbers and sadly had to say I couldn't make it after all. I was disappointed but knew there would be pictures and stories and I would enjoy those as well. Just like the UK Meets.

Then things shifted again, Skippy (you remember her from the Toronto meet blogs) was going to come as well. Now I had just seen her a few months before when she had been in Washington visiting her father. I wasn't expecting her to make it back to the States from Australia again so soon. Just having her there was yet another reason to want to go, but she also had a plan that was going to make it possible for me to actually get there! Her brother is a pilot and was willing to add me to his buddy list for flying. Which cut the airfare down by enough that it was just crazy now to go instead of full on insane. So after talking to Brent (which consisted of me listing all of the responsible reasons why I shouldn't go and him saying, You want to go, go and have a great time.) I said yes!

Flying on a buddy pass is one of those things that is excellent and horrible at the same time. The cost of the flight was excellent. The uncertainty was horrible. At one point the week before the trip I thought I wouldn't make it on the plane, there were 8 empty seats and 8 people on standby. If anyone else was added I could get bumped. The priority list was JetBlue employees, other partner airline employees, buddy pass by order of check in. So if any employees wanted to fly I was out. The night before the flight Carl (Skippy's brother) checked the load on the plane one last time, 8 empty seats, 4 people on standby and I was 3 or 4 in line depending on when I checked in! Woo hoo! I was going! I booked my ticket for the Empire State Building, printed maps and check in information and let everyone know I was in FOR SURE!

Then I got to the airport...Brent and I had flown this same red eye to New York the week before and I knew how full it was then, and I knew that 8 empty seats was going to look very full as well. So I waited for my boarding pass...and waited...and waited. They don't call for standby fliers until they are already boarding the plane. They want to make absolutely sure they don't sell those seats first. As everyone is boarding and they start calling names I am counting on my fingers...that's one seat, that's two seats...oh no! he is traveling with his sons that's three right there! So finally the ticket agent looks over to where I am sitting and says, "Are you Denise?" I am sure at this point he's going to let me know I am not making it on, but he tells me, "You are on, it's a middle seat, is that okay?" Are you kidding me? Of course it's okay! I am on!!! The final count for that flight was 8 empty seats, 9 people on stand by. I was the first non-employee to check in and I got seat number 7. It was that close. Whew! Thank you Carl for stressing how important it was to check in as soon as it was open!

Through some boarding miracle the row I was sitting in was still empty and there was space for my bag in the bin right above my seat! Amazing! All I had to do was move the bag that was sitting in the bin taking up two spaces worth of room over to the side, and this is where I entered The Twilight Zone....

So as I am reaching up to slide over the bag I hear from behind me a panicked voice, "Don't touch that bag! Seriously don't move it!" I turn around and look at the guy behind me, "Is this your bag?" "No it's hers and she will freak out!" He points to the woman a row ahead of him who is now aware I am touching her bag. "Don't move that! I like to have room on each side of my bag!" I just looked at her at this point. Seriously? You like to have room? So I give her "The look" turn back around and slide her bag over and put mine next to it. "I just want my bag up here." She looks at me like I am a crazy person. I give her the head tilt and ask very calmly, "Anything else you want to say to me? No? We're good then?" and sit down. She likes to have room around her bag? And I am not sure what is crazier, the fact that she likes that, or the fact that everyone around us apparently gave in to her and let her have room!

So then my row mates come on. Score! They are two thin women! It's not going to be a miserable cramped middle seat for me! They have both been at the bar until the last possible minute so they can fall asleep easily on the plane. I sort of laugh to myself that it won't be the last time that weekend I fall asleep with the smell of alcohol in the air I am sure! Well as they are settling in we hear a commotion from the seats behind us. "DON'T TOUCH THAT! Don't open that or you'll ruin it for everybody!" Okay, now this is not what you want to hear in our post 9/11 world. So everyone gets a little tense for a second. The flight attendant runs up the aisle, seems that a woman was trying to get her bag out of the over head compartment and this was just not a good idea. See what had happened is someone broke the door shoving their bag in, the flight attendant and the guy freaking out and gotten the door closed and latched but if she had opened it there was no guarantee they could again.

The flight attendant let her know that if they had to report it as broken we couldn't take off until it was fixed and that would probably take 4 hours, and NO BODY wanted that. She said, "I just want my bag" he said, "You just need to take a seat" He won.

One of my seatmates is off trying to find room for her bag and I look down at the bag she is going to put under the seat in front of us and it looks back at me! She was flying with her cat and he was just gorgeous. Big flat faced orange kitty. She let me know he was drugged up so he was a little out of it, she was a little drunk and a little out of it as well so I thought it was a fair deal.

We are all settled in, the last announcements come through,"We will be coming through the cabin to offer beverages, our water system is broken so we cannot offer hot beverages during this flight" Okay...broken overhead bin, broken water system, what else? I decided to go right to sleep so if we died in a fiery crash I would sleep through it!

So remember my joy at having thin people next to me? It was short lived as I discovered they were thin drunk people who weren't good at boundaries. Oh well. Once everyone settled down and the cat stopped crying I got to sleep. Only to be awakened by something I never thought I would hear on a plane..."Is that your cat?" The flight attendant was leaning in close to the woman next to me, waking her up, "Is that your cat?" he asked again pointing down the aisle. Seems the cat had figured out how to open the carrier and was wandering the plane! :-) Can you even imagine sitting in a plane and looking down to see a cat wandering up the aisle? Well, she tottered off after the kitty, drugged cat, drunk owner, quite a site to see! But she caught him, got him back into his carrier and we were off to sleep again.

Now this time around I lowered the tray table, put my small bag and pillow on it and doubled over to sleep. The guy in front of me had already reclined his seat back, though not enough I guess. He inched it back a few times which made the angle too small for my arm to be above my head so I readjusted and drifted back to sleep, but this was still not enough space for him I guess. So he did the logical thing in his mind, pushed the recline button and SLAMMED back into his seat to try and capture a few more inches. This, of course, made the back of his seat smack into my head. BAM! I snap my head up open my eyes and find his wife glaring at me from the seat next to him. Well, of course, this was my fault, how dare I ram the back of my head into his seat like that? Then he proceeded to flop around in his seat for another 20 minutes before deciding he liked it better more upright after all. *sigh*

So finally land at JFK. Five thirty in the morning New York time. Two thirty Portland time. Groggy and bleary eyed I am off to find a quiet corner to nap for a while. The shuttle is going to pick me up at 9 so I can grab a few winks before heading off into the city. Airports aren't the best for sleeping, but when you are exhausted a few cat naps between announcements will do. After grabbing a little more sleep I get some food then go down to where the shuttle will pick me up. By 9:30 there is no shuttle. I call and am told that my driver looked for me but didn't find me. Sure...the area I am waiting in is pretty small and I have been there since 8:45. I saw lots of shuttle drivers come in, call names, pick up people and leave again. But not one called Denise, Mastenbrook, Dennis, Masterson, or my personal favorite Ma..Ma..Mast...Ummm.. Nothing close.

So they are going to send another shuttle. Ten o'clock and I am FINALLY on the shuttle! I am going to meet Corrie at the hotel. Corrie who left Philly after I landed and is now closer to the hotel than I am. My shuttle driver decides that having one person just won't do so he circles back around the airport to pick up more people. We don't leave JFK until 10:40 and then we started the long and winding trek into the city. I visited with a nice gentleman who was traveling in from Miami but was originally from Venezuela. We started joking that it was going to take longer to get him from JFK to Grand Central Station than it took to get from Miami to JFK! Finally after much confusion, including my driver insisting that when I was saying 6th and 26th I really meant 7th and 27th, up to and including actually trying to drop me off there, I finally got to the hotel. At noon. Three hours after I was supposed to leave the airport.

Poor Corrie sitting waiting in the hotel lobby for me all that time! I had been sending her updates during the travel though...not sure that "I AM NEVER GETTING THERE!" was very comforting or not...but at least it let her know that I was alive and still somewhere in New York.

So after a fabulous weekend with friends both old and new (blog to come later)it's time to start the journey home. I was flying standby on a late flight out of New York. Carl had texted me the night before to let me know there were 9 open seats and 8 on standby so I SHOULD be okay. Now after my 8 and 4 adventure getting in, this made me really nervous. I knew there was an earlier flight out of JFK through Long Beach that had been emptier when we first looked at flights so I figured I would head to the airport and give that a shot. One extremely expensive cab ride later (it was worth it to avoid the shuttle from hell experience!) I arrive at JFK to find that I can't change my ticket, only Carl can, and he is in the air. So I have 3 hours before I can check in for my next flight, 7 hours before it takes off and a day at JFK in my plans. It wasn't horrible. I had books, wifi, a plug for my phone and a diet coke. After finally getting my standby boarding pass I got to go through security and waste time looking through shops, eating some lunch/dinner and texting Brent.

And then watching the waiting area start to fill with people for the flight. A couple people tried to get an update on the standby status and were told that the flight was very full. But no confirmations as to how many were going to get on. So the nerves are starting again...and shoot! There is the dad with his two boys so that's three seats ahead of me on the list, and oh hell, that guy is a pilot he is on for sure! The flight was late getting in so it was past time to board and I still didn't know if I was going to be able to leave New York. My back up plan had been to call Skippy who was staying in the city until Wednesday and crash with her if I didn't get on the flight. Well Skippy's phone was on a tour of the city without her so that was not going to work. I am exhausted, worried and stressed, Brent tells me, no worries, if you don't get on just book a nice hotel room and sleep. But I just want to go home at this point. You all know the feeling right? The trip was fabulous but now it's time be home. I was the 7th person called for a seat. I know there were at least 5 people waiting when I got mine so that means at least 3 didn't make it on. Again...whew!

The flight back was mostly uneventful. The typical flight annoyances. Like "Hey, Mister, if you have a bladder the size of a peanut maybe don't book the window seat" and "You know if your 4 year old is that big of a brat already you have lost the parenting game and her teenage years are going to kill you." But I was homeward bound and that was really all that mattered!

A friend asked if it was worth it, and even if the people I was going to see hadn't all been fabulous (which they were) even if I hadn't gotten a chance to see the Empire State Building and Times Square (which I did) even if I hadn't gotten a chance to laugh so much three days later my throat is still a little shot (which it is) I would still have to say yes it was. If for nothing else than..."Is that your cat?"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Play to your Strengths


That's me. That list is the list of my Top Five. Anyone who has done one of the Strength Finder programs knows exactly what I am talking about. This blog is for the rest of you.

When I was trying to decide what to do next during my last stretch in the advertising world Scott Dickinson (client and friend) discovered the Strength Finder series and gave me a copy of the book. He had a few reasons, the first was that the book preached to something that he and I had discussed for years, the concept that people do better playing to their strengths instead of wasting time trying to shore up their weaknesses. I have always hated the concept of company reviews that focus on "areas of opportunity" or "growth opportunities" to work on during the next year. Basically weaknesses that they thought you needed to fix to advance. I would always tell Scott, if Jane is great at the register and lousy at the fryer keep her on the register, don't make her learn how to fry! And since he agreed with that concept when he found this series and they were saying the same thing he thought I would love it. He was right.

The second reason is that he wanted to roll the program to his company and wanted my help. To really understand the program I needed to work it as well. And honestly I think he was curious to see what my strengths were. It truly gives you insight into the person you are dealing with if you understand how their mind is working. I tried to get my boss Scott to work the program and try it out in our company. The main reason being there is a section in the book that teaches you how to talk to people with different strengths than yours and I thought how wonderful it would be if after almost a decade of working together off and on we could figure out how to talk so the other one heard us. But no go on his part.

But I did the program and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. If for no other reason it gives you some clarity as to why you do what you do and why not every one else does. The reason I am tucking it in the middle of the job series is because it's one of the things I learned while working for L/N. If not for my job there I wouldn't have worked with Scott D. in the co-op and then in his stores as well. If I hadn't been open to helping with projects that weren't strictly marketing or advertising related he wouldn't have felt he could come to me for help in employee training programs. Remember early on in my working career I learned that by saying yes to different things you often got the opportunity for a more rewarding job experience. Little did I know at the time that it's part of my basic strength group (input).

The Strength Finder concept is that people spend an awful lot of wasted time trying to shore up areas that they think are weaknesses instead of finding out what you are truly good at and focusing on how to make that work for you. It's much easier to excel in an area you are already good at than to excel in an area you are not. Along with this there is the basic reminder that everyone is different. You are rarely going to find two people in your organization (work, family, friends) who have the same Top Five in the same order. You might share some traits but as one might be your number one it might be their number five. And the beauty is this is great. It gives everyone a chance to shine and grow in their area. There are 34 dominant themes or strengths you can have so you see how many possible combinations there are!

Your strengths are so ingrained in you that you don't even realize that not everyone has them. For instance empathy is my third highest strength. When I am having a conversation with someone more often than not I understand and can feel their emotions. When you tell me a sad story I will tear up. When you are telling an angry story I get a little mad as well. And because I can do it so easily I am sometimes amazed when other people miss things. We could be in a meeting at work and afterward I would tell my boss, Man so and so was mad. And he would have missed it completely. He was not strong in empathy. This isn't a weakness of his he needed to work on, it just wasn't his strength. But just because I understand how you are feeling it doesn't mean I agree with it. I am not high in Sympathy. You see?

One of the things Scott would do in his company before the managers would take the test is have them review the brief descriptions of the 34 themes and see if they could pick out their own top five strengths. I don't think anyone has ever gotten all five. I know I didn't. There were so many areas that I thought I would be really high in that didn't make my top five and at first I thought, well that can't be right, but when I read the detailed versions of my top five I had to agree that those things are me. The very core of me. I found myself nodding and laughing as I read the full descriptions knowing they were right and understanding why there were things that made so much sense to me that other people just didn't get. And conversely when I watch someone do something that I could never do in a million years and they do it with ease I know now they are playing to a strength they have and they might not even realize how amazing it is that they can do something other people struggle with.

When something isn't working in my life I stop and think is it because I am trying to approach this in a way that doesn't play to my strengths? If I look at it from another angle will it be easier? Or the very basic, why am I doing this? Is it because I want to or because I feel like I should? I use what I learned from this one simple book more often than I ever thought I would. Which is why (as I said) I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

The biggest realization I had after reading the book and taking the tests and living with the results for awhile was that I was in the wrong field. I needed to move on to something that played more to my strengths. I had adapted the way I worked to match my strengths, without even realizing what I was doing, but I was really tapped out. At least in that company. It was one of the final pieces I needed to help me move on out the door and on to the next job. Which is a blog for another day.

Here are my strengths in detail in case you are curious as to what makes me tick.

My Strengths

Excellence, not average, is your measure. Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding. Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling. Strengths, whether yours or someone else’s, fascinate you. Like a diver after pearls, you search them out, watching for the telltale signs of a strength. A glimpse of untutored excellence, rapid learning, a skill mastered without recourse to steps—all these are clues that a strength may be in play. And having found a strength, you feel compelled to nurture it, refine it, and stretch it toward excellence. You polish the pearl until it shines. This natural sorting of strengths means that others see you as discriminating. You choose to spend time with people who appreciate your particular strengths. Likewise, you are attracted to others who seem to have found and cultivated their own strengths. You tend to avoid those who want to fix you and make you well rounded. You don’t want to spend your life bemoaning what you lack. Rather, you want to capitalize on the gifts with which you are blessed. It’s more fun. It’s more productive. And, counterintuitively, it is more demanding.

You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind,you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective. You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective. You do not necessarily feel pity for each person’s predicament—this would be sympathy, not Empathy. You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand. This instinctive ability to understand is powerful. You hear the unvoiced questions. You anticipate the need. Where others grapple for words, you seem to find the right words and the right tone. You help people find the right phrases to express their feelings—to themselves as well as to others. You help them give voice to their emotional life. For all these reasons other people are drawn to you.

You live in the moment. You don’t see the future as a fixed destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now. And so you discover your future one choice at a time. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans. You probably do. But this theme of Adaptability does enable you to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans. Unlike some, you don’t resent sudden requests or unforeseen detours. You expect them. They are inevitable. Indeed, on some level you actually look forward to them. You are, at heart, a very flexible person who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in many different directions at once.

Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.

Monday, November 1, 2010

And that's a wrap from the world of Advertising...

I talked about the process of leaving advertising in this blog series so I won't go back over that, but I do want to talk about that year a little more in depth and that will be the next job on the list. But first I want to share a couple more things I learned from my time at L/N.

One of the things that happens when you work on a national account on a local level is you have to learn how to play with one foot in each arena. On the local level my media director and I were the big fish. We made the decisions on where ads were placed, what we would and would not recommend to the co-op and why. On a national level our agency was small potatoes. We handled two co-ops and weren't considered big players. At least when I first started.

As I mentioned we had a few national players in our co-op and so I was able to get a few introductions to co-op members and agencies from around the country and to people on the corporate side. Falling back on my stance of "I don't have any idea what I am doing" I listened, I asked questions and I paid attention to the answers. And by doing this I started to get a reputation for the agency as maybe a little more than a small shop content with handling just the two co-ops we had. We started to be asked to pitch other co-ops. We got the nod to present information at national marketing meetings on what we were doing out in the Northwest. And if the agency hadn't been crumbling around us I think Jenny and I and then later Sheila and I could have taken L/N to the next level. As much as I didn't agree with Scott as a business man he was an outstanding Ad Man and pitch guy. I could bring in the facts, the numbers and the face that they were used to seeing at meetings and he brought in the gravitas of having the "AGENCY PRINCIPAL" there the pitch the client.

More than once it was down to us and AFA. AFA was the original advertising agency for Kentucky Fried Chicken. The big dogs in our world. There were two or three agencies handling the majority of the work and AFA was always our main competition. Losing to them stung but it was an expected loss and every time we felt like we were getting that much closer to beating them out. We were shinier (Scott loved newer, bigger and better), they had the bulk of the machine behind them. Almost everything they did was KFC focused and KFC was only one of a variety of clients for us. Of course we each pitched that as our strength. For us it was you will get the benefit of our variety for them it was you will get the benefit of our focus. I still think given another year or maybe two and we would have started winning a few of those pitches. But as they say, it was an honor just to be nominated. And it was a honor to go from being "Jack's new girl" to "You know Denise from L/N right?" I know you are supposed to not care if people know who you are, but I liked knowing that I was making a name for the agency and a name for myself in the process.

Also working with folks from all over the country you form relationships with people online, on the phone and the 3 or 4 times a year you see them face to face at meetings. In Louisville there is an agency that handles the bulk of the print advertising for KFC. About 6 months after I started back with L/N I was at my second national meeting and I sat next to a woman that was just starting with Creative Alliance. AJ. AJ and I hit it off right away. Over COB. Every organization has Acronyms. And every organization uses them in meetings and internal print like you should automatically know what they mean. So in this meeting there was a huge push for more COB. Why were we getting away from COB? COB built the brand! And I look over at AJ and she is paging through her presentation materials and has just the most puzzled look on her face, so I lean in and say...Chicken on the Bone instead of boneless chicken, COB. And this look of relief floods her face and we were friends from there on out.

Now to CA we were the clients, just like KFC was our client and so I had account managers through the years with CA. Starting with AJ who was then promoted to head of her department and she would assign the new account managers to me. I am not sure if it was because she and I were friendly or if it was just dumb luck but my account people through CA were all exceptional. And even being out of the business for more than a few years I still have a handful on my friend list (ah Facebook again)and I get to stay a part of their lives even though I am no longer with KFC, and I get to see pictures of their kids and wish I was closer to play auntie! So there are two lessons here, one is make friends with the boss and you get good people to work with you. The second is watch what you say when someone asks you a random question. Wait? What was that second one? Here is the story, you knew one was coming right?

So Holly was one of my account people and she and I hit it off right away and completely. You know those people you meet that you just feel like you have known forever? She is one of those for me. After Holly and I had been working together for awhile I was back in Louisville for a marketing trip and CA was doing the client relation thing and took me out to dinner and drinks. Holly and I were sitting at the bar and she asks me if I know Cynthia Koplos. Well it was a silly question. I was in marketing and Cynthia was the face of KFC corporate marketing. She is the person that stands in front of the masses at these meetings and presents the corporate marketing plan. I obviously knew her. Then Holly asks what I think of her. Well, thinking before I speak sometimes fails me. What I should have done was said, "Why?" Instead I gave Holly my unvarnished and completely honest answer of what I thought of Cynthia, and I went on for about 5 minutes with it as I had a lot to say about how I felt about her. And when I was through Holly said, "She's my aunt." You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had worked with Holly for (I want to say) at least a year by this point and NO ONE had ever told me. I look over at AJ and she tells me that they have all been sworn to secrecy so that no one would treat Holly differently due to who her aunt was.

So the good thing? I had nothing but praise for her aunt. She is one of those women that I always wanted to be. She would stand in front of a group of sometimes very hostile franchisees and agency people who were trying their best to show how smart they were and take question after question after question and more than her fair share of abuse and she did it wearing a smile and maintaining her composure the entire time. To me she just embodied strong professional woman. And I thought she was funny and smart. Which as you all know to me, funny and smart are the one two punch in personality that trump everything else. I do believe I slugged Holly in the arm and asked her what she would have done if I had hated her aunt? She told me she wasn't worried since I loved her I was obviously a good judge of character. And then the part that made me get all smug for a little bit, Holly told me that her aunt had nothing but good things to say about me as well.

I was completely taken aback. I had no idea she even knew who I was. Years later I am glad to count her as friend, but I will never forget calling Scott Dickinson and telling him that Cynthia knew who I was and LIKED me. Do you know why she liked me? She probably doesn't remember, but I do. She told Holly that I was always careful to come to her after a presentation if I noticed a typo or a transposed number instead of calling it out in front of the room. Now I wasn't ever afraid to ask questions about the actual content of a presentation and to do that in front of the group, but I never understood the perverse pleasure some people took in pointing out silly mistakes. But I did want her to be aware of them since they would be presenting those same foils at regional meetings as well. That small act stood out to her and so she had started paying more attention to what I was doing in the group as well. And she liked me. Or she made all of that up because she was smart enough to ask "Why?" when Holly asked if she knew me.

So that wraps up the lessons part of my second stint at the agency. And really it's the same lessons as the first part, be yourself. By being myself I put the agency in a position to grow. And by being myself (even in the not thinking before speaking part) I was able to show Cynthia a small kindness that stuck out to her, and was able to be honest with Holly how I felt about her aunt. And because of that I have kept the friendship of both women to this day.

Okay, next up...the year of living dangerously! Or how I discovered what busy really means.