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Paranoid on the Internet

This is a case where I’d argue, all cleverness aside, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you. Last night we watched The Great Hack on Netflix, which walks you through the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Even if you’re not at all techy, if you’re using the internet and have email you really need to watch this film. Whatever your thoughts on this scandal and the morality, I find it hard to believe the idea that people with unknown agendas have 500+ data points on you personally and the ability to make custom messages directed exclusively to you won’t freak people out. (Ignorance may be bliss, but it never works out in the long haul as a protective measure.) I’m also slowly working my way through Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (too scary to read straight through–and I knocked out Helter Skelter in two days). So other than being somewhat stressed at the level of carelessness I’ve inadvertently displayed all over the internet for nearly three decades, what did I really learn that can help us all?

Two years ago I wrote a post with practical info on what to do if you’ve been part of a serious data breach. I think it’s still a good start post-hack, but that those tips are a bit like treating measles when you hit the hospital to try and stave off encephalitis (absolutely necessary if you’ve been infected) and I’m a big believer in vaccines (easier to never catch the virus).

Let’s start with what we know to be true. Data brokers collect information on each person in the world. They use as many different sources as they can access to aggregate that data. None of us are reading the terms and conditions but they are universally written to favor the business, not the consumer. Understandably, businesses don’t want to be bothered by nuisance lawsuits. Lawyers are expensive and time-consuming, so if they can make it very hard for you to sue up front, they do. And if they are breaking new ground where the laws don’t extend, they’ve got even more room to block. If you have no rights in a new space, like data, then there’s nothing to stop exploitation in future use cases that emerge as a business grows. There’s not a separate set of terms for nice people like us who would never file a nuisance suit. And government information, like who owns your house, has always been public if someone went down to the right office and paid any small fees required. The internet just means that there are now businesses that aggregate that info and make it profitable. See Zillow and put in your childhood address and you’ll see what your parents paid and what the current owner’s property taxes are.

Nothing to Hide?

Why would we care about all this data being public? Well, Google Maps knows where you went and when, Instagram knows what you ate there when you photographed it, Facebook knows who you were with when you were tagged in a friend’s post, anyone with your home address knows what you paid and when, and all the entities involved in your banking chain know how much you spent last month. From that, over a month, it’s not too hard to determine your religion (if any), vegetarian/vegan, country/rock, credit rating, work address, profession, pets, Uber/Lyft/car owner, and basically everything else. A data aggregator or broker scoops up all this information, as well as public info (leases, property taxes, loans, phone numbers, emails), Continue Reading

TEDx Talk

Over my years as a parent (learning on the job), I began to realize the experiences I was trying to provide for my sons weren’t the same things I looked for in prospective employees’ résumés. Those curated experiences that look like my idea of a perfect childhood weren’t the things I knew had built my best staffers’ skill sets. Meanwhile school life was all about planning everything to the tiniest degree, when I knew work life was about making long-range plans, but surfing the chaos as each day unfolded. When I flipped the whole scenario and focused on the great clients, employees, and contractors I’d worked with over the years, I started to formulate a theory.

We film a lot of patient stories in our work at LYON, and inevitably the parents who have dealt with serious or chronic illness in their family, carry the extra weight of feeling they have failed to provide a perfect childhood for their children. And yet, consistently, those families with pre-teens and teens that are around when we film have some of the most engaging, accomplished young adults we meet. So I started to wonder—maybe those kids are great because they’ve had imperfect childhoods. Maybe that extra bit of effort, fending for themselves a little more, thinking about serious things at a younger age, is what is making them a little more skilled with people, projects, and time management. I can’t prove my theory, but I hope it sparks some conversations to hear me talk from the TEDx Solana Beach stage.

What Do You Want Out of the Next Year?

Before you make a New Year’s resolution, typically narrowly focused on a measurable goal, stop and think bigger picture and longer term. When your future self is sitting here one year later, how will they be different than you? It’s easy to vow to be  closer to graduation, or with a better job and more savings, but you need to play the long game. Whatever the goal, there are skills you need to make that jump happen and stick, so while I support the short term goal, I think it needs to be meaningful in a longer term plan.

Normally, I’m a believer in building on your strengths, but college is the one place where you can build up your weak spots, while there is little consequence to failure. If you’re weak on small group discussions, pick smaller classes where the professor will consistently try and pull you into the discussion. It’s the rare company and manager who will do this, so this is great example of  the last call nature of college. If you’re already in the workforce, rather than set a goal of being promoted or getting a raise this year, if you’re on the quiet side, make a point of finding one relevant thing to say in every meeting. Getting noticed and stepping up your perceived engagement will make it a smaller, quantifiable daily goal. It will build the speaking skills that make the later discussion about a raise or promotion not only easier for you, but also, make it easier for the decision makers to think of you as a  valuable contributor. If you’re weak on writing out your ideas, take a class that demands small, short writing projects. If you can’t find a class like that, look for an extracurricular activity. Recording a meeting with your phone and distilling it into two pages of minutes once a month for the school year will help you master those skills. (There is a formula to these, so you can easily do it correctly.) Construct your daily or weekly goal(s) to build a skill(s) that will build to the larger goal.

Going back to my primary contention with the book version of Launch Like A Rocket, professional success requires strong skills in communicating, organizing, relating to other people, and executing plans. In the book I break those down, giving you examples of each, why they are essential, and how to acquire them. When you don’t have these skills your career stalls out and you have no idea why. If you’re stuck in a job that’s not quite right, reading the book may help you figure out how to use the time wisely so the next spot lets you move forward at a faster pace.

Assuming you’ve got mind-blowing skills, the best way to get a job at any step of your career is through your network, so you need that network to not only know you, but to know you well enough to make accurate recommendations. They need to think of you first when it comes to certain skills, and feel recommending you to someone for a gig or position will reflect well on them. While you build a network, meeting new people, be sure that it’s a meaningful network. (I got a job this way and it led to meeting my spouse and starting my company.) Having hundred of connections on LinkedIn who don’t really know you and have no idea of your strengths and expertise doesn’t do you any good when it comes to getting considered for a job. The very best way to job hunt throughout your entire career is to have jobs come to you when you aren’t even actively looking. If that’s unimaginable with your current network, then you don’t really have a network.

I’m not advocating your goal should be to build your network. In fact, I’m advocating you don’t build that valuable network until you have a clear idea what you want that network to say about you, and make sure the future you 365 days from now clearly represents those strengths and skills. If what you want out of this year is a new job, whether within your company or with a new one, you need to think about what that manager wants in that position, and you need to work on being that qualified person. Whatever you want this year, you can make it happen by thinking strategically about the long term before you make a move.

JAKE’s mom’s Christmas French Toast Casserole

Jake posted a photo of our french toast casserole Christmas morning and we had requests for the recipe, which takes more than Twitter’s 140 characters. We were introduced to this sugar and carb extravaganza courtesy of Jake’s pre-K best friend, Carly, and her mom, Annie, so we give thanks to them for providing us with this family tradition.

The photo @jakeow posted, above, is 2x the recipe below. We like to cook it in our Turkey roasting pan, which also gives me a really good excuse for not cooking Christmas dinner. #WorkingMomHack (I make this the night before, so we just put it in the oven Christmas morning.)

1 loaf sourdough bread (or 1.5 baguettes, if you like it with more crust, like we do)
8 oz cream cheese
2 1/2 cups of half and half
8 eggs
1 cup maple syrup (real syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350° and use some extra butter to grease a 12″ casserole pan with 4″ sides
  • Place two layers of cubed bread, then a layer of sliced (or chunked) cream cheese, then cover with the remaining bread.
  • Whisk together eggs, half and half, and 1/2 of the maple syrup.
  • Pour the liquid over the bread to saturate the top layer evenly. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
  • Bake for one hour at 350°  or until the mixture puffs and sets.
  • Melt the 1/2 cup of unsalted butter with the remaining 1/2 of the maple syrup. Drizzle the top of the casserole immediately before serving (shortly after it comes out of the oven). Sprinkle the top with sifted powdered sugar.

Not recommended pre-Overwatch game, for players or viewers. Excellent pre-nap meal. #OWL2018

Free Tools for Organizing Projects

If you’re going to get things done around there, you’ll need a good set of tools. And while notebooks and documents on your accounts may be working, keep in mind one of the tests of managing an event is whether someone else can pull off next month’s or next year’s version without reinventing from scratch. Even if that person is you and it’s just a semester-long study group or this year’s spring break trip, this is a great chance to practice using some more collaborative tools. Many of these tools will even help you offload some of the work, making any time spent mastering them easily recovered in productivity gains. (If you read my book, you can get a lot more in-depth about why this matters.)

Here’s my short list of free tools that have value in the post-college world. Most have more elaborate paid versions, but as with Gmail, the basic, free versions should be more than enough for most people. Continue Reading

Launch Like A Rocket: The Book

Yep, I wrote a book! (You can see inside and everything, on Amazon.) I figured if I was going to hector college students about getting involved, taking on more, being adventurous, and making things happen, then I should hold myself to the same standard. If students’ academic load wasn’t a good excuse for their being too busy, I didn’t think my work life should be either. I told lots of people I was writing a book, so I’d be irrevocably committed. And with many thanks to the dozen or so who swore they’d read it, or make their high school or college student read it, I knew I had to actually get it done in a reasonable amount of time. I sat down every Sunday afternoon from Memorial Day to Labor Day, taking over Nick’s abandoned desk for the writing, and eventually moving up to Jake’s for the layout and rounds of editing.

For the first time in my life since college, I put on headphones and wrote for two to four hours at a time, week after week. I hired an art director friend, Jessica Gheen, to come up with some cover ideas (she’d already gifted me the Launch logo), my husband, Mark, built me an InDesign template for the inside, had my mom, my father-in-law, and another friend, Amy Cahill, do a read of the draft, and I hired another friend, Eileen Haley, to do the final proofing. I implemented all their feedback and changes as I saw fit (any typos or errors are entirely my fault).

And, as expected, it was a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t totally sure I could do it and I was a little in over my head at times. But when I give advice to students now I can really say from personal experience that moving outside your comfort zone to accomplish new and different things is incredibly worthwhile, if only in the change in creates within yourself.

Leveraging All Your College Activities for Career Success

Here’s the bad news right now: On top of everything else on your plate as another year of college kicks off, I’m suggesting you’ve got a little more to do. The good news is that I’ve made a four-year roadmap to save you a little time. While I was doing my summer homework and writing the book, Launch Like a Rocket: Build the soft skills you’ll need for your career by leveraging your entire college experience, I created a spreadsheet for you to save as a copy in your Google Drive or download to use in Excel.  Since I’m still proofreading the final layout of the book, I’ll just do a quick post to cover the basics of the planning process to be sure you’re one of the few college graduates with the soft skills needed to succeed. For a quick briefing on soft skills, I like the Bloomberg Job Skills Report for 2016, even though they are talking about MBA recruiters’ wish lists for top candidates. (Master of the obvious: If MBA grads don’t have these skills, imagine how rare college grads with them are.)

Continue Reading

Accepted? Start Planning!

This is the time of year when all the college acceptances start pouring in. You may spend April doing some final visits to figure out which school is right for you now. You may not know what you want to major in, but you likely have a couple of alternatives in mind. It’s not too soon to take a look at the classes your possible schools have and start roughing out a plan. (If you know which one you’re going to go to, you can get more detailed from the start.) This will make college a more valuable, productive experience, and any opportunity to practice this kind of planning will be critical to success in your career. Planning your classes yourself and continuing to rough out the plan as new information becomes available will help you graduate on time and save you a ton of money in the process. (The money aspect may make it tempting for parents to take over this spreadsheet, but if you are a parent who really must, at least use it in stealth mode, to prompt your student to double-check their facts. Land the helicopter and walk away.) It may also save you some false starts. For example, some science majors at some schools are not easily compatible with a semester abroad—taking a look now will help you pick the right school and go in to a chosen school aware from the start about any potential trade-offs between your interests.

By way of example, I thought I’d use one my sons’ college experience. To help you drill down into as much of the detail as you like, without my writing too much into the weeds, I’m linking extensively to the University of Puget Sound website throughout. His journey may be very different from what you imagine for yourself, but the twists and turns of his college career are probably far less than the average experience. The point of adolescence, college, and those first few jobs out of college is to help you figure out who you want to be and what you want to do, so you should expect you’ll need to adjust the grand plan constantly. (BTW, the same thing will be true of your career—see the animation in my last post.)

Luckily, my son, Nick, was willing to send me the College Schedule spreadsheet he showed me over the holidays and said I could share it. By way of background, Nick’s a senior at the University of Puget Sound, graduating this May (2016). He was admitted as a freshman with a Humanities minor and as part of the Honors program. Right off, getting accepted to both programs meant he had to take both program-specific freshman writing seminars (on his sheet these are the HUM classes in freshman semester, although they now have different SSI-1 designations in the link above). Our family thought that was a good thing, because while he was a strong writer and coming out of a large, well-regarded public high school, his classes typically had 30–40 students.  Continue Reading

Rethink Career Planning Completely

Here’s a reality check for the intense planners out there. The hot jobs change over time and some of the things that look like a smart, steady career path when you’re in college can disappear entirely a decade or two longer. Or you can change and decide the things that fascinated you at 19 bore you silly when you are 28. Planning for an unknown future with too many variables to isolate is impossible to do and discouraging to contemplate. And we live in a time of increasingly fast change. Whole industries are being disrupted while new ones arise. So here’s a statement taken out of context that really wouldn’t sound like me: Give up.

I’m proposing an entirely different way to think about your career, starting right now, while you are still in school that future-proofs you, whatever comes. Think of every class and activity as building specific skills, you can begin to create a narrative that helps you decide where your evolving passions lie. You can also plan a few steps ahead, as things gradually become clearer to you. And even those first internships or career positions post-graduation that turn out to be a terrible fit can still yield big value if you think about them in terms of skills. If you’ve got strong skills in a few areas and continue to build on those, I think you’ll be relevant for even those professions that arise from what’s just a sparkle in an entrepreneur’s eye right now. And when you come to a choice between activities, internships, or jobs, you’ll be able to evaluate them by their long-term worth to you, not just a short-term pay difference.

Launch Like A Rocket: Career Lily Pads from LYON.

How (and When) to send a LinkedIn Invitation

This week I received yet another completely generic, one-line  “I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn” invitation from someone I didn’t know, whose job title is “student at XYZ University.” I admit, I am sometimes uncertain about the invites I get. Not because I am old and forgetful, but because I’ve been working since I was 16—I’ve met a lot of people in my life, from many different circles, and sometimes it’s hard to place them out of context. (And I started my career long before LI was invented, so there are people who suddenly join who knew me quite well years ago.) Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, when I’m not sure I go check out the profiles of the unknown message senders on LinkedIn. This week’s uninitiated user profile has no photo, and relatively little info, given they are young and with little experience. They aren’t in a field that relates to what I do nor is their school one I have any strong personal connection to (there are two business school scholarships there in my dad’s name, but my last name is different, so I’m dismissing that as the reason.) I’m not accepting the invite and I’ll nicely mark the invite reason as “I don’t know Person X” (the other option is to mark it as spam). If you get too many declines for this reason LinkedIn can restrict or even terminate your account. This is not a happy outcome for this student (who by the way sealed their amateur status by having only 20 connections).

First of all, have a real profile, including a photo, when you are connecting with anyone. Start off by connecting to your classmates, professors, parents, friends’ parents. Try getting to 50 connections. Send invites after you’ve had a successful meeting or email exchange with someone new. If you’ve had only a brief conversation at a large gathering, follow up with an email or coffee invite, not a LI invite. Once you’ve actually met, then follow up with an invite. Give yourself time to get back to your office or the equivalent—at least an hour. Invites sent on your phone from the car five minutes after the meeting are a exclusive hallmark of overly enthusiastic teenagers. Cute, possibly accepted, but not as a peer.  Continue Reading