A Virtual Reality Check…Living Life Untraditionally

JCJ_Column_Published_Jul_08_2015-croppedPublished in the Jersey County Journal
Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The future is upon us, whether we like it or not. Yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s technology has catapulted us into changing the way we live our daily lives—despite many deeply heartfelt attempts at stopping it. The “traditional” way of doing things is no longer carried out with methods set forth by the baby boomers or the generations that came before them.

The reality is that every day is now set on a virtual stage. The Millennials, with help from the Gen Y generation, are taking the lead and taking over. The rest of us will have to change our perceptions of (and our practices in) the real world today if we want to continue to have meaning in our very existence.

We are not our parents; we are not living in our parents’ time. Just as we refused to become our parents, so now are our children. And while there is much value to cherish from the generations before, we also know there is much value in change (indoor plumbing and electricity come to mind for starters).

Why do I bring this all up now? Well, it’s got to do with what I like to call a reality check of a virtual nature I encountered in both my professional world and in my role as a parent—almost simultaneously.

From a few “professionals” in my field, it was recently suggested to me to consider leaving my Master’s degree off my professional profile. They recommended this because of its non-traditional nature, as well as because of the university from which it came and its current negative image. When I first read the words of the messages from these “professionals,” I was just shocked. The more I read about their words about how a more “traditional” pursuit would have more prestige, the more frustrated I became.

The hard work, perseverance, and mastery of the knowledge contained in my non-traditional program were just as rigorous, viable and valuable as any obtained through “traditional” methods. My education is a highly significant part of who I am; my graduate degree will remain a visible part of it.

My oldest son recently completed his Master’s degree “traditionally” at a “prestigious” school. His reality now is, in the highly competitive and very limited field of fine arts these day, those things weren’t quite enough. The prestige, the reputation, the beautiful campus, the network and the knowledge acquired: they all have value. And soon he will be paying for it, but while likely working in another field.

As a student, a parent, and an educator, I know firsthand that the “tradition” of a physical classroom where a student reports to from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. doesn’t work for all learners. Realistically, isn’t it more important for a student to learn what they need to know to become contributing members of society than it is for them to simply follow “tradition”?

I think it’s time we start looking at life more closely through our children’s and grandchildren’s eyes. They are our current and future leaders. Life lived online is the new reality, for them and for us. It is just as vital, educational, profitable, inspiring, and brutal as living the way our grandparents did.

Often I hear people saying that kids today don’t know how to communicate. Maybe the reality is that we’re the ones that don’t. The world is changing every second…perhaps it’s time for all of us to silence ourselves, open our minds, and listen more closely to what the future is saying…


It’s not all about the money…but it is a bit

JCJ Column Published May 13 2015

Published in the Jersey County Journal Wednesday, May 13, 2015

This is the time of the year for Moms and for graduations. And for me this time around, I am lucky enough to celebrate both. While my youngest still has a way to go on his degree, my oldest will receive his Master of Fine Arts degree from Washington University St. Louis in just a few days. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate all the rewards that come with being a mom!

A young professional artist now, he got his start in the arts right here in Jersey County. Unfortunately there’s not much of the evidence of the fine arts left in public education anymore where he can serve as kindling for the fires of the next M.C. Escher, Patrick O’Rourke…or Jeremy Shipley. Therefore, the challenge ahead of him now is to secure gainful employment in his now limited and highly competitive field that keeps his fire ignited while also keeping Sallie Mae happy. Not an easy task…regardless of your chosen path.

Erica Galos Alioto, a senior vice president at Yelp, recently posted an article on LinkedIn entitled, “Don’t Take a Job For the Money or Prestige.” I thought it would be particularly applicable to highlight some of what she shared as we enter the graduation season. It is the same sage advice I have given my sons and to anyone else who’ll listen.

In the article Alioto talked about how she knew for most of her life that she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. She shared that she had dressed as a lawyer for her fourth grade career day. In high school she campaigned for, and won, the spot of top prosecutor on the mock trial team. And at 22, she entered her first year of law school.

Soon though, she found that the classes and her writing exercises were not very exciting. She also found that she didn’t enjoy the environment of being surrounded by overeager law students who saw success as a zero sum game. She found her work as a summer associate at a top firm to be mind-numbing.

But in the end, the money and prestige of going to a big firm won her over. She took an offer with a great firm where she was paid well and had the prestige of belonging to a top firm. She stayed there for four years, until her need for fulfillment could no longer be quieted.

When she finally left, she ended up at a start-up. She took a huge pay cut, but she went to work excited every day. There was very little money or prestige, as the company was virtually unheard of at the time (I think the company she is a VP for is a little more well-known these days).

I have always been much like Alioto. I pursued the spark, the fire, the passion…even after my Master’s degree, money was a secondary thought. As an entrepreneur for well over a dozen years now, I wouldn’t change a thing. But it has also made for some difficult times along the way. Doing a bit of what I don’t enjoy nearly as much had to become a part of my reality.

So, here’s my keynote address to all the graduates out there—a condensed version:

As you begin down the path of the real grown-up world where there are no extensions, GPAs, or a syllabus to inform you of others’ expectations, keep running down that path of your passion with your torch brightly lit. Just be sure you can make those student loan payments too…

Melissa Crockett Meske has served as a guest columnist for the Jersey County Journal since 2006. She is a professional writer and an organization catalyst. Follow her at mcmeske.wordpress.com.

Food for Thought…A Love Story

self-esteem-is-awesomeSelf-esteem…the ratio of success to self-expectations…

Our esteem is what we appraise ourselves to be worth, what we see our value to be to others. It is what we believe we have to offer authentically and uniquely to the world in which we live and all its inhabitants. It is only inside ourselves that we can define our personal level of esteem. Individually, we each have skill sets, memories, knowledge, and interpretations that are ours alone to share…or not.

Perhaps, if you are experiencing what you believe to be a low level of self-esteem, you should consider giving yourself a break. Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Rather than counting your failures, start counting your successes. A healthy level of self-esteem is sure to break through like the sun does at the end of the storm on a rainy day if you see the glass half-full instead of half-empty…even better if you discover the glass is spilling out everywhere instead of cracking from the dryness inside.

You alone decide what words to voraciously consume and which ones to catapult back into the vortex of that final frontier…so write your story the way you want it read.

After all, the history we learn from one generation to the next is founded on the words and the stories of its victors…make sure the commentary on your life is full of good stuff!!!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone…there’s enough love around for all of us…just look inside…

Quality in Review…Always Aim for 100 Percent

Almost 10 years ago, I came across a post on the company’s intranet for whom I worked at the time that has managed to stay in my files over all these years. It was simply entitled, “Quality in Review,” but the impact made from the sGoal-Plan-Graphictatements within the post was far from simple. In contrast, they were rather complex and very insightful.

In today’s world, talking about the “99 percent” can bring up a whole can of worms that I am not planning to address here. The “1 percent” should be relieved…

This posting, sourced from PRWeb.com back in 2006, talked about whether or not a commitment to 99 percent is good enough. I concur with the post that, at first glance, a 99 percent quality goal seems impressive. But after considering the following list, perhaps we should all continue to aim for 100 percent goal achievement.

And although the numbers listed here may have changed, it is still an incredible way to think about settling for 99 percent rather than going all the way for 100. Based on achieving a 99 percent quality goal:

  • 2 planes landing at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport would be unsafe every day
  • 12 newborns would be given to the wrong parents daily
  • 291 pacemaker operations would be performed incorrectly
  • 315 entries in Webster’s Dictionary would be misspelled
  • 3,056 copies of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal would be missing one section
  • 880,000 credit cards in circulation would have incorrect cardholder information in their magnetic strips
  • 5 million books would be shipped with the wrong covers
  • 5 million cases of soft drinks would be flat

Just think about it…

Doing What You Love Isn’t Always a Good Idea

apples“Do what you love, and the money will follow.” How many times have we heard that said? How much has that sentiment been drilled into our heads? Too much and too many. More often than not, it is bad advice…especially if being offered as an answer to your vocational inquiries. Sometimes doing what you love in order to make a living isn’t such a good idea.

Quite frankly, once you turn your passion into your income, it becomes your job. As such, the vision you once had when you first envisioned yourself as a premiere New York gallery artist or the next Pulitzer Prize-winning author loses most of its glitter. It is now something you must do—40 hours a week (at least)—in order to pay the rent and buy the groceries.

In essence, your heaven may have just become your hell.

In my younger years, I thought the mantra of doing what you love was spot on, just as was the idea of your work always being for the greater good. Salary wasn’t as important as the work I was doing. But now I’m older…and wiser. With little to show for my golden years.

I still want to do work that has value. But I now want to work to live instead of living through my work. I want to enjoy my passions on my   own schedule, not on the demand from someone else. I’ve learned my lesson. Once a diehard passionate lover of the arts, I now struggle to enjoy walking through a gallery after spending a significantly stressful amount of time as the executive director of a nonprofit arts center.     The money certainly didn’t follow while I was there either.

In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport argues that following your passion as a career can lead to a dead-end. Worse yet, it can lead you to burnout. A staunch critic of “doing what you love and the money will follow,” Newport argues that it’s better to identify which skills you have that could be valuable in the work world, then apply and fine-tune those skills until you build up enough career capital that you can spend your time off the clock enjoying the throes of your passions.

Other reasons to not do what you love? With the fact that the money doesn’t always follow, it’s not necessarily realistic—let alone appropriate—to burden your spouse, children, other family members or society with the sole responsibility of making sure your household stays afloat and has its needs met. In today’s world, you also have to consider covering the cost of healthcare and retirement and how to make every dollar work for you.

If you are a potter that is banking on selling your ceramic works of wonder to support you and your family, and you somehow manage to be become sought after and well-known, that might still mean you took a loss on your income at the end of the year because it cost you $1,000 to make that vase that finally sold for $800. And how many pots can you throw in a year that are truly salable anyway?

While I’m not saying that it doesn’t work at all, it is rare that one can pursue their passions and have to do nothing else in order to sustain yourself and your family. Just know that it really is okay to have a job that pays the bills while reserving your passions for pleasure-seeking and pleasure-sharing.

It’s a lot more exciting and fun to share your flair for architectural photography with those who also enjoy it, whether or not you make a few bucks doing so, than it can be to expend all your time and energy selling yourself and your work 24-7-365. Trust me on this…I’ve been trying for over 20 years.

Even Steve Jobs didn’t get rich pursuing his passion. If he had, Apple might be just known as a Zen fruit.


Crafting Your Resume Authentically: A Different Thought Process…A Different Approach

Resume ImageHow in the world can you make yourself truly stand out as the best possible choice for the job when all you have to work with is some black ink and one or two pieces of nice white paper?

My first recommendation is to seek out a copywriter like me to help you wow your list of prospective employers. But if you are more of a DIY-er, then I challenge you to craft your new edition of your resume with a different approach. Consider taking  yourself through an alternative thought process, different from what has become the norm, as you do your best to shine in black and white.

Think about this for a moment: organizations come into existence because a need becomes evident and turns into their mission. To successfully fulfill their mission and achieve the resulting vision they see, these organizations map out a detailed plan that includes objectives, goals, and timelines. So I say to you, why not look at your professional life in the very same manner? Here’s what I mean:

First, take some time to consider and clearly define your professional mission. Focus on you, tune out the other voices that tell you what you should do or who you should be. Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? What needs do you see in your world that you can satisfy?

Consider what your life would look like if you successfully fulfilled your professional mission. Allow yourself to fully explore this vision you have for your life, let it encompass you, understand its importance in staying true to yourself, then place it at the forefront of all your thoughts and actions.

Once you have a clearly developed mission and the vision in your mind for what your life would look like once this mission was fulfilled, you then have the ability to write a clear and unique career objective. Every resume should have a clearly stated career objective at its beginning. Your career objective should be a summary of the plan you have developed for fulfilling your career mission and vision.

Now here’s the real challenge…all the other elements that follow on the page after the career objective are then detailed in terms of how they supported your declared career objective, in other words, how they moved you closer toward the vision you have of professional success.

And if there are jobs you’ve had that you find just don’t fit into your overall vision, then you shouldn’t put too much in black and white about them.

Keep in mind that who you worked for and when is not nearly as important as what skills and knowledge you acquired while there. I have rewritten countless resumes where the emphasis (bold font, italics, larger font size) was placed on the name of the company and the dates of employment. The position title and the work performed were given much less emphasis.

Your resume is a tool for you to use to show potential employers why they simply must talk to you further. You are obligated to show them that you have put some serious thought into this, that you are on a mission, that you have a vision for your successful self. Focus on what you can bring to them and why you want to be there and you’re sure to stand out in full color in the monochromatic sea they are sifting through to find you.