Tales of a Cat Wrangler

 A Frank and Personal Look into My Foray Into Project Management

Sometimes, people see more in you than you see in yourself. And, when fighting low self-esteem is a constant battle as it is for me, what someone with low self-esteem sees in oneself is almost always going to be less than what we’re really capable of, as my husband on occasion reminds me.

Recently I was asked to take on a slightly different role with the digital marketing agency I’m on contract with, in part because my “boss” was working full time and in part, I presume, because he saw I had the “chops” to do it. I was asked to become sort of a project manager/team lead to finish off a website for a mortgage broker. This involved co-ordinating the work of others as well editing and writing content, and sourcing free photos.

Putting on the big girl panties while at the same time, leaning in and feeling my apprehension at the prospect of this new role, I accepted the challenge. Typically, I’m more comfortable as a follower, not a leader. (It was also comforting to know my “boss” was always a phone call or text away.)

Naturally, there have been a few hiccups along the way, including the challenges of working with an international team, issues with the site itself, my lack of experience as a leader and knowledge on how much direction/guidance/communication/ to give.

My boss reminded me of the importance of:

  • to be available on a daily basis,
  • monitor the project daily, and
  • communicate, communicate, communicate

As a writer you’d think I’d know this last one but it wasn’t instinctive. One can’t just parachute in and give the directions, and then take a hands off approach thereafter. In my defence, I felt like if I prompted too much by checking in with the team as to how their various tasks were proceeding, I was hounding them. (We are all adults here.) However, I underestimated the value of being present for my team. Interestingly enough, the more I communicated and was present for them, the more was accomplished.

Project management quickly felt to me like herding cats. Check out this hilarious video produced by The Fallon Agency for computer giant EDS on herding cats:

Micheal Hyatt, in his article Project Management and Herding Cats makes the connection between project management and cat-herding:

  • Cats are solitary animals. They aren’t naturally part of a herd. People can be like that too (including myself). As leaders, mentioning the benefits of collaboration and getting more done collectively as a team is required. Otherwise, according to Hyatt, people are “lone rangers” and projects can start to unravel.
  • Cats are seemingly aloof. People can appear to be so as well. Leaders are needed to drive engagement about the project and get people on the team to buy in, and connect emotionally with the project.
  • Cats are easily distracted. Unfortunately so am I, especially since I work from home! (Possibly not the most stellar quality in a leader.) There are plenty of distractions everywhere for everyone. Leaders need the ability to keep others on their team focussed and on-task. (Oh look… squirrel.)

Hyatt emphasizes the importance of  leaders becoming who they need to be to their team, in order to model the behaviour to their team. If I’m distracted, and aloof (and, in taking more of a hands-off approach, this may have been the perception), I can, according to Hyatt, foster a culture of distraction and a lack of personal engagement to the project from the team.

In any event, the end is nigh. The website’s almost done and my role will likely then transition to providing content writing and social media on an ongoing basis for the site.

I’ve gained valuable experience in a short amount of time and learned a lot along the way, and I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity, but I’m still not certain I’m a cat wrangler!

Of Comfort Zones And Plants

Funny how you are either pushed out of your comfort zone or choose to leave it.

For example:

If my husband hadn’t been laid off in the later part of 2015, we may have never left our comfort zones and we would have missed out on meeting some of the amazing people we have met to date, through networking, support groups, etc.

If we hadn’t changed churches, I would not have obtained a contract as a copywriter/content writer as the odds of me meeting the principle of the marketing company – who attended the same church – I’m contracted to would have been slim.

According to this article http://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-breaking-out-of-your-comfort-zone-and-w-656426705,  leaving our comfort zone has various benefits, including;

  • increased productivity
  • easier to deal with unexpected events – such as job loss – which forces you out of your comfort zone
  • the more you leave your comfort zone, the easier it becomes
    you’ll be more creative – seeking out new adventures, learning new skills, gets those creative juices flowing

Which Brings Me To The Ultimate Out-of-Comfort-Zone Scenario
a.k.a. I’d Rather Die Than Network 

Here’s some tips for leaving your comfort zone which have worked for us, applied in a networking context.

  • Do it in small steps. For us, deciding in advance how long we’ll stay at a new event helps calm our nerves. Thankfully, there’s no rule that says you have to stay until the bitter end (but if you’re having a great time, go for it).
  • We also defined what “success” at a networking event would look like for us. Maybe we didn’t get leads on jobs or who hiring managers were for certain companies, but we did meet and talk to two or three new people. That accomplishment alone is success for us.
  • Going with a friend, significant other, co-worker, etc. definitely increases the comfort level.
  • While getting out of our comfort zone can be rewarding, and result in increased personal growth, we determined it’s okay to take a break and go back into your comfort zone for a short time to re-charge and re-group.
  • Do what works for us. Large, noisy, groups aren’t our thing. One-on-one, face-to-face, meetings, on the other hand, rock!


Just as purposefully and intentionally stressing plants causes them to thrive –  http://www.greenhousegrower.com/production/plant-culture/stress-is-good-for-plants/  the same could hold true for us; funny how intentionally leaving your comfort zone  can be where the magic happens.

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today my husband was laid off. This was waiting for him when he came home on November 18, 2015.
amarula

Here are the positives of the past year:

  • My husband had worked for this company for over 10 years, so he received a good severance package.
  • We were able to spend 37 days in our RV (a record for us) on vacation.
  • We were more able to be there for others, such as my mother-in-law, who needs assistance at times.
  • Bianca and Laid Off Calgary.
  • For both of us, as often happens when in a period of adversity, there’s been a time of extreme growth. Mostly this growth was all good, as:

You never know what you’re capable of, until you have to be capable of it.

There was much to learn, and much to do.

My Journey

I graduated with honours in 2014 from the University of Calgary with a Certificate in Professional Writing (PR and Marketing concentration). I’d been looking for work since, albeit somewhat languidly, as my husband was working. My love of, and natural affinity for, writing is such I have several passion projects on the go and have volunteered my writing and editing skills. Wanting, and now needing, to get paid for my skills, my husband’s layoff was the kick in the pants I needed to take looking for work seriously. I got my ass in gear.

I had to stop hiding my light under a bushel. Moreover, I had to stop thinking I didn’t even have a light to hide.

I had to learn to put on my big girl panties and suck up all my fears and insecurities.

I am super grateful for those  I’ve met along the way, and so thankful for the part-time writing contract I secured this fall, as well as other possibilities waiting in the wings.

Our Journey

We had to make ourselves climb out of our comfort zones, at times kicking and screaming. In some cases, we went way out of our comfort zone such as the time we were filmed for an appearance on the news, while in the midst of a photo shoot for laidoffalberta.com.

We had to learn how to network, how to develop an *elevator pitch, revamp our resumes countless times, study interview techniques, attend presentations, sell ourselves, get out there, and talk to strangers. I’m a shy extrovert, and my husband is an introvert, so meeting new people is difficult enough for us, never mind talking about ourselves and our accomplishments. Networking is a work-in-progress for both of us. We both had to learn to do what works for us. In the world of networking, one on one is more our style.

We had to learn to ride the emotional rollercoaster of job-hunting.  As our applications for positions were ignored,  we’ve had to remind ourselves, over and over again, of what we have to offer companies.  When interviews were granted for positions we were a strong fit for, yet the jobs went to someone else, the feeling of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” emerged.

As someone mentioned the other day, in this economy, “there’s a lot of sellers, and not many buyers”, which makes it difficult to remain positive. “It’s not me, it’s the economy” soon became our mantra.

We had to be there for each other in countless ways to keep our relationship strong.

And our faith? Oh, our faith, to be honest, it’s been a challenge to trust that God’s got this.  He may have it, but He’s sure taking his time delivering it.

*My elevator pitch:

I am a self-starting, results-driven writing Ninja with a breadth of writing experience.
Put your idea in front of me and I’ll bring it to life.
I’m an excellent story-teller with the skills to creatively communicate
your ideas, product, business or service.

*My husband’s elevator pitch:

I am a Business Intelligence Specialist with 20 years experience in providing advanced problem-solving analysis, specializing in data analytics and data /system integration. I have the ability to break down complex data and/or system related issues by redefining them in ways that are solvable.

I am looking for an opportunity to help the business to improve their ability to manage their business processes.

This Isn’t Your Grandmother’s Job Search

closed

I co-facilitated a “Laid Off Calgary” meeting recently. Here’s a link to one of the Event Brite listings which provides information on the meetings.https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/tuesday-afternoons-laid-off-calgary-support-group-tickets-26154444648?aff=erelexpmlt

I’d prepared a hand out prior to the meeting, which was updated after the meeting to incorporate some tips raised during the group discussion. Sometimes family isn’t as helpful as we’d like them to be.  These tips may help.

  • Consider who you are talking with. A close family member whom you love dearly and see often may “merit” more response vs. a second cousin twice removed whom you only speak with once a year.
  • Handling unsolicited advice:
    • Here are some tips for what to say when offered unsolicited advice fromhttp://theglasshammer.com/2015/01/16/how-to-handle-unsolicited-advice-2/(which can be adapted for the situation):
      • “It sounds like you have some ideas for this. That’s great. We need all the ideas we can get.”
      • “I’m going to try a few options to see what works best.”
      • “I can tell you want to help. I’m still working through this myself.”
      • “Thank you for always giving your advice, but there are things that I really want to figure out on my own. I like figuring things out and when I need help or advice I’ll be sure to ask.”
  • Alternatively, say something non-committal like “I’ll take that under advisement.” Or, “Thank you for your thoughts.” Or, “Thank you but I really just need someone to listen to me right now without advice.”
  • More tips: Have a script ready for times when family/friends are giving unsolicited advice, such as:
  • Consider giving your “elevator speech” to family/friends who suggest you apply for jobs other than that which you are qualified for and/or interested in.
  • If someone asks how goes the job search, and you don’t feel like talking about it, say “thanks for asking – it’s going as well as can be expected, but I really want to hear more about your ___(hobby, project, family).” (Change the subject). And/or say something like “I’m diligently pursuing all leads I feel I am qualified for and interested in. How are you?”
  • Educate them on the realities of job searching in today’s economy, for example, mention that nearly everything is done online and that unsolicited resumes (like unsolicited advice ;)) are not usually accepted.
  • In discussions with family, try to incorporate a positive of being laid off (while still acknowledging being laid off sucks). Positives could include spending more time with children, able to catch up on projects around the home, trying a new hobby, take a course, go for walks, etc.
  • Be aware of generational differences. “This isn’t your grandmother’s job search” – that generation may not have even had to go on interviews.
  • Be aware that family dynamics seem to rarely change and are established early on *i.e. the advice-giving brother will always be the advice-giving brother no matter what age/stage the both of you are at.
  • When family members don’t ask how things are going, a suggestion for opening up that sort of dialogue could be “I notice you seem to have a hard time talking about my layoff, and it’s important to me to be able to discuss this. I need some support and someone to listen.”
  • And finally, recognize they are trying to help, but just may have a not-so-great way of doing so.

Five Ways to Really Help Someone Who’s Been Laid Off

Downtown Chicago. Photo credit: my husband
Downtown Chicago. Photo credit: my husband

With the unemployment rate in Calgary hovering around 8.5%, lots of people are looking for work, including myself and my husband.  This is not a place either of us, at this time in our lives (we are in our 50’s) would have ever thought we’d find ourselves.

What’s said and done by family and friends, while well-meaning,  are often less than helpful.  Advice-giving, sending public job postings from various job search websites, not taking the time to really understand what type of job the person is looking for, or even what they do for a living, and saying things like “I don’t understand why he / she can’t find a job”, are all examples of things that don’t help.

Here are five things that might:

  1.  Take the person who’s been laid off out for coffee.  This is likely a treat they have cut back on to save money.  Being at home and unemployed is isolating.
  2. Ask the person exactly what they do for a living, what type of job they are looking for, and keep your ear to the ground for upcoming opportunities in your company – or other companies and people you are connected with –  before they are published on Workopolis, Indeed, or other job search websites.
  3. Give them a gift card for a movie or a restaurant.  Again, this is something that the one who’s laid off hasn’t been doing to save money.
  4. Think of any projects you have on the go at your home that you could hire your friend or family member to help with such as lawn care, snow removal, renovations, etc.
  5. Now that summer is here and the kids are out of school, child care to attend interviews, networking events, job fairs, etc. could be difficult to obtain and / or costly. If able to, offer to provide child care gratis so those seeking employment can attend important events.

I daresay any of the items on this list would make a real difference to your laid off friend or family member.  I know they would to us.

Facebook Page or No Facebook Page?

photo via free photo site unsplash
photo via free photo site unsplash

Based on research and my own personal attempts to have a Facebook page for my blog and my photography, here’s five reasons not to have a Facebook page.

1. “Feed filtering” has resulted in fewer pages showing up in individual news feeds.

2. According to Edge Rank Checker.com (“a free tool to check your Facebook Pages’ Edge Rank (or exposure within Facebook)”, page views have been steadily declining, from 16% in February 2012 to 6.5% in March 2014.

3. There’s glut of information being posted on Facebook, and only so many hours in the day for people to view it. Facebook realized this and implemented “feed filters”.

4. . Unless page content is, according to techcrunch.com, “funny, fascinating, and dynamic”, there’s little chance of it being viewed.

5. Further, studies have shown that media outlets that put information on Facebook pages, such as news items, see more “reach” for their pages than companies pushing a product. Source: http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/03/the-filtered-feed-problem/

Do your own research, of course, but fierce competition and declining page views make a Facebook page a tough sell for me.

Dream Fulfillment

At the Chicago "Bean" 2012
At the Chicago “Bean” 2012

With the uploading of the final assignment for the final course in my University Certificate Program (Professional Writing in Public Relations and Marketing) I have realized the life-long dream – a dream at times I didn’t even know I had – of attending University.  This is a moment worth savoring.  This is an accomplishment worth celebrating. My heart is full.  This dream fulfillment has been two years of hard work towards this moment, utilizing, enhancing, improving upon and fully embracing a passion (writing) I have had for years.  Not for nothing, I accomplished this while doing/dealing with:  chronic pain; migraines; sleep apnea; arthritis; anxiety; the death of my father and the death of our beloved pets in 2013 (and the byproduct of loss – grief); keeping our home running; writing articles for magazines; developing inventory for two photography shows, etc.

I will actually receive my formal Certificate in the fall due to missing the deadline this spring because of course timings.  The University also has certificate graduation ceremonies however I will not be eligible to participate in this year’s ceremony due to the application deadline. I’ve submitted my name for next year’s graduation ceremony. I was eligible, based on academic standing and the program I was taking, an endowment award of $500 and applied for the same. I will know at the end of May whether I was selected.

Obtaining this Certificate would not have been possible, on so many levels, without the love and support of my husband. Honey, you rock! Thank you so much. “I’m not a parasite, I’m a tax deduction!”

I was asked for my thoughts on what comes next.  I’m curious about our culture that creates this. This seemingly pushing along of life.   It occurs in various forms: once one is engaged, one is asked “when’s the wedding”, as if the engagement itself was not  a moment to cherish, celebrate, savor.  When one is married, the question changes to “when are you having kids?”  Same thing: Is the stage one is at not a stage to enjoy for it’s own sake? And, when one graduates, it is “what will you do now?”  Well, now I am savoring my accomplishment.  I am patting myself on the back, tooting my own horn, and making merry over what I have achieved. This is a big deal to me; huge!  I’m also going to catch up on my sleep. As to the future? In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll “worry about that tomorrow.”

Grief is Inconvenient

A bit of preamble: My husband and I have started grief counselling. Our first appointment was last month.

neverargue

People never cease to amaze me, and not necessarily in good ways. We are scheduled for grief counselling Thursday afternoon. A co-worker of hubby’s who wanted to have a meeting with him at that same time was being a real jerk about this yesterday, and got all huffy: “you should go to that in the evenings.”

I’m sorry our grief is so fucking inconvenient for your schedule.

Insensitive asshole.

Seriously.

Who acts like that when told someone’s going for grief counselling? Grief counselling in the evenings are difficult to do; they don’t have many evening appointments.

Since I just got diagnosed last night with pink eye we are re-scheduling anyways.

Of course this co-worker will think the re-scheduling is because of him and that he won.

Not that I’d wish this on anyone, but God forbid this co-worker would ever need to have time off during work hours for dealing with tragedy and grief.

Of course the real tragedy is his lack of sensitivity.   And that is grievous.