curls just wanna have fun

There are lots of things I worry about in terms of my career. Am I being challenged? Do I have enough experience supervising others? Am I an ethical team leader?

But there’s one thing I have never worried about having an impact on my professional life.

My hair.

Yeah. Call me naive but I guess I’ve never really seen it as an asset or a liability. Just as something to take care of and wash every so often.

But today I came across this article titled: Can Having Curly Hair Hurt Your Career? And I plotzed.

Seriously? I could be at a professional risk because of my HAIR?

Forget about the long hours and grueling events and meetings. According to some folks, those might all be forgotten, unfairly overshadowed by my unruly locks. Or something.

Here’s an excerpt from the article: It seems that curly hair, to some people, automatically represents a lack of seriousness. It goes against the slick-backed power suit look women are supposed to aspire to in the corporate world. Perhaps it is because curls are so unabashedly feminine.

Apparently this is a real thing though…

Look – I get it. Curly hair has a tendency to get – well – big sometimes. And it’s nothing you can safely run your fingers through. But I seriously can’t imagine it keeping me from any career opportunities that I’d actually want. As if the shape of my naturally given hair follicles indicates something innately different about me in the work place. Personally, I think having curly hair just makes me more awesome.

It gives me an edge. It starts conversations. It fascinates my friends and family when I’m in a humid climate. And man oh man has it taught me patience (because yes, I straightened it daily throughout high school, before I even owned a straightener).

That being said, if I had a desire to be the spokesperson for, say, Barbizon School of Modeling, or wanted to become the face of the next Pert Plus advertising campaign, perhaps I’d care more about it. But generally speaking, I like my hair, and when the alternative is something called a Brazilian Blow Out – which sounds more like a martial arts technique than something I’d pay for in a salon – I’m ok a la natural.

Here I am rocking some cutesy-pie toddler curls in my first car:
In this next photo I’m at my brother’s wedding. My curls were in a new-found state of glory in the humidity of Belize:
Note that I have not included any photos of the 20-some-odd years between when these two pictures were taken. That’s not because I don’t have any. It’s because, as any curly gal knows, there are some lots of awkward years spent learning how the hell to style curly hair. It’s a menacing learning curve combated only through lengthy product trials and a kind stylist. I kid you not, when you finally find a method that works, it’s like being reborn.

In fact, for years before I hit my curly-hair stride, my brother referred to me as the lesser-known member of Bone Thugs N Harmony, because sometimes that’s what my hair looked like. Yep.
 Stop laughing.

I’m proud to have curly hair – like my mom and my dad. It isn’t always easy to manage, but it’s me. And as much as I like to worry about even absurd minutiae in life, I am not going to spend any time pondering whether curly hair is the new glass ceiling.

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one more nugget

Hey there, how’s it going?

Me? I’m good. Although apparently I’m still not over my chicken nugget rants.

All week, I saw people posting on social channels, mostly Facebook, about their support for or disgust toward Chick-Fil-A, based on recently publicized remarks that it supports only biblical marriage between a man and a woman, and makes donations to organizations who do some not-so-inclusive things.

Throughout the week, whenever I saw people pledging support for the chicken chain, I bit my tongue. I resisted any direct comments to these folks out of respect for their beliefs (and a lack of interest in a passive-aggressive online battle).

As I pondered how to voice what I was feeling, someone beat me to it, quite well. (As a writer, I both love and hate when this happens.) Anyway, I think that those of you who are still reading will really appreciate this piece.

The gist of Connor Gaughan’s incredible essay is that this debate isn’t about chicken sandwiches. It’s about discrimination – the real kind – that has big consequences for real people.

“[...] Growing up is never easy. But, teenagers who grow up gay are four times more likely to take their own lives. No, that has nothing to do with our sexuality on its own — suicide rates are lower where gay kids are accepted. It’s because our institutions, and all to often the adults in our lives, tell us we’re not as good as our straight peers. In 29 states, it is legal for an employer to fire me for who I am. In 31 states, leaders and voters have told me that I am not worthy of the fundamental human right to marry. You want to marry because you love your Mr. Right; I have no rights to do the same. And, the consequences of this inequality are terrifying and real. For example, I can be denied access to my loved one on his deathbed. There are over 1,100 other rights that I am denied. When gays get so angry about a chicken sandwich, it is because Chick-fil-A has given around $5 million to fight to discriminate against us.” -Connor Gaughan

summer reading

In elementary school, I always participated in the public library’s summer reading program. You know the drill; you read some books and then earn prizes based on how many pages you can burn through.

Well, call me nerdy or call me blessed, but I love reading (thanks Mom and Dad) and have always been speedy. I typically completed the entire summer challenge within a few weeks, feeling a pang of disappointment at the lameness of the prizes, and for having to defend the fact that yes, I had really read that much in a month.

Old habits die hard. Here I am, 20 years later, still plowing through a summer reading list. A few friends have asked for recommendations lately, so here’s a list of what I’ve enjoyed this summer:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected–A Memoir by Kelle Hampton

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Lies We Told by Diane Chamberlain

Midwives  by Chris Bohjalian

Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed  by E.L. James *only slightly ashamed about these

The Space Between Us  by Thrity Umrigar

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

5 Team-Building Activities Your Employees Won’t Hate

This article I wrote was originally posted on The Daily Muse, read it here:

If you’re like me, the words “team builder” or “ice breaker” cause you to break out in a cold sweat. Sure, the intent behind these activities is usually good, but they often end up feeling forced and awkward—like something you participated in as an 11-year-old at summer camp.

As a manager, there’s no doubt you want to proactively build morale and camaraderie within your team—but how do you do that in ways that people are actually excited about? To help you out, we’ve pulled together a few secrets for leading successful team activities and making the process a lot more productive and a lot less painful.

1. Take a Field Trip

Sometimes, the best way to get to know the folks you work with is to just let everyone interact freely, without a formal plan. One company I worked for had an annual field day, complete with food, silly games (that were all optional), and prizes. At another job, my team went on quarterly trips to the movies. Depending on how much time you can allocate to an activity, consider getting offsite and encouraging your team to get to know each other free from the confines of their cubicles.

2. Get Together to Give Back

Working together on a cause that the people on your team care about is a great way to bond. My company facilitates a lot of volunteer outings with local non-profit organizations that employees love. Around the holidays and back to school seasons, we spend days collecting and delivering school supplies for children in need, and we’ve also participated in programs to build bicycles for kids and have taken part in Habitat for Humanity builds. These types of activities create an opportunity to do something meaningful for others and provides a break from the typical work routine.

A great way to kick off this process is having the team decide, as a group, what type of volunteer activity they’d like to participate in. Take suggestions from your employees, and have everyone vote on which they’d like to do—you’ll get a chance to learn about what causes people care about before you even get started.

Can’t get out of the office for a full day? Try setting aside an hour for a simple charitable act, like writing letters to service members.

3. Professional Development

Learning and growth are important parts of your employees’ professional success, but they don’t have to happen individually. Have your team participate in a professional development activity together, and use it to encourage people to learn collaboratively. This type of activity can take on many forms—guest speakers, online seminars, and relevant publications are all great educational opportunities. You might consider inviting one of your company’s leaders or board members to present to your team, or have an executive from an outside company who can share advice and insights on your industry come in to present.

4. Share Your Strengths

There are tons of well-known team compatibility programs available that can team your team members about themselves, each other, and how to work best as a group, like Strengths Finder, Emergenetics, and even the Myers-Briggs Personality Index. These are fantastic tools to promote open communication and respect of different personalities and work styles. This kind of exercise often involves very focused learning, so it’s helpful to find fun ways to share each person’s results, like having people predict results for their colleagues, or asking everyone to suggest a celebrity or famous character who best represents them.

5. Show and Tell

It might seem like a flashback to elementary school, but when done with a bit of finesse, show and tell can be a fun, low-pressure way to help people learn about each other. I once worked on a team where, at each month’s staff meeting, everyone was asked to bring in something that reflected herself—whether it was a favorite recipe, an interesting article, or even a family photo. At the start of each meeting, we set aside 10 minutes to go around and have everyone share what they had brought. It was quick, non-cheesy, and a cool way to learn about your co-workers that didn’t require much heavy lifting.

Leading an engaging team activity doesn’t have to be stressful, and can be a lot of fun if you apply some creative juice to your plans. So don’t be afraid to try something new. Chances are, your team will appreciate a break from their typical routine and leave with renewed energy and a more positive attitude.

wednesday wisdom

If you know me, you probably read this quote and thought, “Jess, open to whatever? Pshaw! That girl’s a crazyface who has to plan everything.” And then you cackled to yourself.

But…I’m getting a little better.

Seriously.

While ambiguity was once my arch rival, we’re now mere frenemies. We even went out for coffee last week.

Maybe people never fully change, but behaviors can and do. So there.

 

 

nuggets no more.

I don’t consider myself political, or someone who’s particularly influenced by media storms or hot-button issues. I don’t like making a big stink about things unless I really understand them and feel extremely passionate one way or another. We’re all entitled to our own viewpoints and too many soap boxes just look cluttered.

But sometimes I can’t resist.

What’s got me fired up this time? Wait for it…

Chick-Fil-A.

I know, I know. It’s a national firestorm about chicken nuggets. And the Boston mayor is involved – you know that means business.

Now, assuming the entire U.S. is reading this blog (not that farfetched) – that means half of you just cheered, and the other half scoffed and hissed. And that’s totally fine. In fact, I can say with confidence that my ramblings this evening likely won’t impact profits for a fast-food chain raking in more than $4B a year. But (there’s always a but), this situation bothers me. Enough to be writing about it when I should be sleeping.

And while I don’t expect to steer you scoffers away from those tasty waffle fries, hear this:

We live in a country founded on the pursuit of freedom and equality. If a company is going to give millions of dollars to organizations that are against these ideals, then I don’t want to give them my money. Even if they also donate money to some lovely causes, I can’t get past that whole ‘i don’t think everyone is the same’ nonsense, especially when it’s based on the grounds of religion that teaches tolerance and acceptance.

Simple as that.

I know that chances are, every company in the world is in some way linked to a group or cause I oppose, and that’s the nature of free enterprise. Until I’ve learned to cultivate my own food and clothing (never), I will likely be inadvertently supporting a whole gaggle of businesses with less than ethical behavior.

As one writer puts it, “Companies have a right to do what they want with their profits, even if it’s something as indefensible as supporting anti-gay initiatives.”

But – if I can make a simple, conscious choice that supports my own values and beliefs – why wouldn’t I?

For all the news about anti bullying efforts in schools, let’s hold businesses to the same standards. After all, the behaviors may be displayed in different ways, but all manifest from intolerance. And that ain’t right.

 

 

The Network You Didn’t Know You Had

This article was first published on The Daily Muse

Whether you’re looking for professional guidance or just someone to bounce ideas off of, we all know how great it is to have people to turn to. But what if you don’t feel like you have the super-sized network you’d like to?

Yes, quality over quantity certainly applies here, but there may come a time when you want to increase the circle of people you rely on—and you may be surprised by who you can find in your own backyard, so to speak. Here are a few ways to leverage the people and places you’re already familiar with to expand your network—and maybe even make new friends.

The Office

Co-workers may seem like an obvious group of people to connect with, but when you’re keeping your nose to the grindstone or interacting with the same five team members every day, it’s easy to shy away from getting to know your other officemates.

But, some of my closest friends are people I met at work. Try looking outside your department: Take your lunch to the break room and strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never talked to before. Or, if your company offers activities like a running club or softball league, go to a meeting to see what it’s like. You don’t have to join, but you’re sure to meet a few new people.

I’ve also been able to gain valuable mentors by scheduling informational interviews with people in interesting roles or departments I’m unfamiliar with. Even if you don’t work with someone directly, take the initiative to ask her to lunch or for a quick meeting to learn more about her job.

Your Alumni Network

Your college network can be a wealth of contacts for both your professional and personal life, and it’s not limited to the people you knew in college. Look up your local alumni chapter online to find people from your alma mater in your neighborhood or in your industry—these groups often have monthly social events where you can meet and network with fellow alums. Last year, I joined the young alumni chapter of Arizona State University, and I’ve enjoyed attending happy hours and tailgate parties with the others in the group, as well as getting some great networking opportunities.

And if you’re job-hunting, don’t be afraid to browse the alumni database and reach out to alums who work in your field for informational interviews. Since you already have something in common, you’ll probably find that people are happy to oblige.

Pumping Iron

If you work out regularly, chances are you see the same familiar faces at the gym or Pilates studio every week. Why not ask your fellow yogi or spin class junkie if she’d like to grab coffee after a weekend class, or go shopping for new workout clothes together? A common interest can be an easy way to start building a relationship with someone who you might not have thought about spending time with. (Added bonus: It’ll make it easier to stick to your workout routine if you make plans to meet at the gym and have someone holding you accountable.)

Your Service Pros

In the past few years, I’ve become good friends with my realtor and my hairdresser. I know it might sound like I have a strange habit of collecting people, but when you click with someone in a business setting, it can be fun to grow that relationship into a friendship. In fact, some of my closest friends are people I met in very roundabout ways. While it’s not always fitting to hang out with someone you rely on professionally (um, your doctor), it can be a great way to grow your network when the situation is appropriate.

Meeting new people isn’t easy—and sometimes it’s downright frustrating. But the best way to expand your network is often to look at the connections you already have, and simply take the next step by engaging people. You shouldn’t feel the need to make giant strides quickly, but a little extra effort over time can pay off with a bigger network and more rewarding relationships.