Monday, February 28, 2011

Being Your Own Boss

I get a lot of questions about how I stay motivated as an independent worker, being self-employed. My friends who are traditionally-employed often lament their "chains" but at the same time, many of them seem slightly in awe of the discipline, self-motivation and initiative it takes to succeed outside of the corporate rat race.

"I don't know how you do it. I would never get anything done." I hear this all the time, and I always smile to myself. Partly because, yes, it's nice to be perceived as having some secret, or a special skill that eludes the general population. Mostly because I know there is no secret, no skill involved that isn't also involved in working for someone else. At least that's true for me.

Oh, you still want my work-from-home secrets?

1. Do something you love. Most days that is all the motivation I need. I love writing and I would be doing it anyway, even if it couldn't be my job.

2. You don't exist in a void. I still have deadlines and colleagues and professional commitments that I need to uphold. It helps add structure to my working schedule.

3. You still have to make money. Never underestimate the power of economic reality. On the days when I don't want to put my butt in the chair, I simply remind myself that work=money in a much more direct and explicit way than it ever did when I was a salaried employee. How much work I do matters day to day, not just month to month or over the course of a year.

4. Reward yourself. I am my own boss, which means no one is looking over my shoulder to criticize, but no one is there to praise the good work, either. I celebrate significant accomplishments and met goals with small treats. Cupcakes. A movie. Dinner out. Something to show that I appreciate me!

How do you stay motivated at work, whether you're in a home office, or someone else's?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Forum: When Stars Come Out

Oscar weekend is upon us and it's hard to go anywhere without hearing or reading about it: who's nominated, who will win, who's wearing what? This is only a couple of weeks after the Grammys and several weeks after the Golden Globes.

Do you follow the awards season or do you find yourself completely uninterested?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just Go With It

CHICKS ROCK! is happy to have Kristina back as a guest blogger this week.

Kristina Leonardi is the founder of The Women’s Mosaic. She is a career/life path consultant, speaker, seminar leader and expert in the areas of women, diversity and personal growth.

While walking down the street after a bizarre week of odd 'coincidences' and uncanny timings, I happened to look up and notice the announcement board of a synagogue with this quote by Robin Morgan, "Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible."

One definition of the word absurd is "inconsistent with reason or logic or common sense," which means that any decisions or actions deemed as such perhaps come from a place we can't always understand, but know is from somewhere deep within us.

The presidents whose holiday we celebrated recently had a bit of that going on... George Washington's advisers questioned his determination to cross the frozen Delaware, and he intuitively knew how to present himself as a leader of this new country; Abraham Lincoln's life is filled with examples of going against conventional wisdom and popular opinion. Both defied the odds by listening to their inner voice, and because of that became the great men we honor today.

Part of maturing is learning to trust your own gut despite outside influences. While it’s helpful to get advice, when we are honest with ourselves, we are usually our own best counsel. Others might not know who we really are or may not have our best interests at heart. I'm sure we all remember times when we've dealt with the consequences of not heeding the wisdom of our gut.

My guess is that Adam Sandler trusts his intuition about what is funny regardless of what the Hollywood suits say, and from his start back in the SNL days, he expressed a unique humor that had yet to be considered commercially viable. Well, we all know how that turned out!

When I meet with clients, often I am validating and confirming what they already know themselves but were too embarrassed, in denial, doubtful or repressed about to admit. If a complete stranger identifies that the 'crazy' idea you have, that thing you always wanted to do, the life you always dreamed of, is exactly the direction you should be going in, just go with it - it's the green light you've been waiting for to produce that box office hit starring none other than YOU!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For The Love Of Tea

I attended the first day of the 6th Annual Coffee & Tea Festival in New York City this weekend. To be honest, I did not realize there were five previous festivals in the past five years, and I knew nothing about them until this year. I love tea of all kinds, and I had a free afternoon, so I went. I told several friends about the event, but they were unable to attend for various reasons. I was not deterred; nothing was going to stop me from attending a celebration of coffee, tea, and everything that goes with it.

It turned out to be a good thing that I went alone, because the venue was packed. It was so easy to lose people in the crowds that surrounded the many booths giving away information and samples of so many different types of tea, coffee, chocolate, cheese, and other goodies. I had no expectations, but I should have known that there would be many people clamoring to attend the Coffee & Tea Festival in New York City, of all places. I was also intrigued by the lectures and demonstrations about coffee and tea that ran throughout the day. How to serve the proper afternoon tea in the British and European styles, how to properly brew coffee, and why herbal tea really is not tea were just a few of the many discussions held by the experts, and the people who attended the lectures with me were all enraptured. While there were a few coffee and tea growers in the audiences, most of my fellow attendees were novices just like me. We just love the magic that turns coffee beans and tea leaves into our favorite hot and cold beverages.

What I love about events like the 6th Annual Coffee & Tea Festival is that they make me think about something I can take for granted. I drink herbal and green teas daily, so learning about them is weekend made me feel good, especially since they have health benefits.

Are you a coffee or tea devotee?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Bummed Bookworm

Bookworms out there already know this, but maybe the rest of you aren't yet aware that Borders is bankrupt. This might not seem like such a big deal to most, after all, it's just another corporation struggling financially and trying to work it all out. But, to me, it was really bad news.

Borders is one of the few brands I’m fiercely loyal to. I go practically anywhere to shop for clothes; I get coffee from Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, or the shop down the street; I eat wherever as long as it's good... I usually prioritize convenience over any sense of loyalty or comfort. But not with Borders. If I even walk into a Barnes & Noble, I feel like I'm cheating. In fact, I got $60 in Barnes & Noble gift cards a few months ago and finally gave them to my best friend, knowing that I would likely never use them.

I just love Borders! Their customer service, their discounts, their rewards program. And, more than anything, I really love their stores. In fact, the saddest thing is that two of my favorite locations had to close. I find that other bookstores are too crowded or full of snippy salespeople. I often feel like I'm being rushed out or avoiding death glares from people who want to take my seat. At my favorite Borders stores, I could sit and read for hours completely undisturbed. I knew exactly where to go to find a book I needed and which employees to ask for help if I couldn't. It was like having another home, and now it's gone.

In a city that's constantly changing, you'd think things like this would leave me unfazed, and yet I can't help but be bummed. My greatest comfort is that they haven’t yet gone out of business, because that may just be too much for me to handle.

Were you sad about the Borders news? Do you have any brands or stores you’re particularly loyal to?

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Bit of a Break

We're off for the holiday and we hope you are too! Enjoy the free time and be sure to spend some time outside.

Happy Presidents' Day!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Forum: Black History Month

We didn't want February to end without taking some time to reflect on Black History Month.

Are there any Black leaders you've looked up to -- whether it be historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. or your own relatives? What impact do you think they had on your life?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Strength of "Patient" Egyptians

CHICKS ROCK! welcomes TWM intern, Agnes, as a guest blogger this week:

Agnes is a junior at the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Queens, where she is studying Urban Studies, Religious Studies, and Mathematics. She's a TWM intern and she's in love with New York City.

I knew I wanted to study abroad, and I thought I wanted to go to India. It took a good deal of researching before I finally chose the program. It was going to involve living in five different Indian cities, with an emphasis on modernization. But when the time came to do all the registering and paperwork, I found myself applying to the program in Cairo. Something called me to Egypt this winter break and I didn't fight it.

One driving force was the rest of the world’s growing interest in Arabic and the Middle East. The region was becoming ever more important and I wanted to take part in it. (I didn't know just how true this statement would become.) While I'm an ethnic Egyptian, I was born in New York and felt like my knowledge was lacking. Studying in Egypt seemed like an adequate cure for my ignorance.

A big part of the classes I took was a discussion on how the Egyptian regime sustains itself. Dr. Dina Shehata of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told us that, "not alienating anyone fully is a mechanism for regime survival." That is, the regime allows for limited political pluralism. Some other theories had to do with the Egyptian people. Dr. Riham Bahi, a professor at Cairo University, explained to us that Egyptians are "patient with their government."

This idea of "patient Egyptians" was a repeated sentiment. It seemed that passivity and submission were adequate descriptions of the way the Egyptian people participated in their political process. But the events of the last three weeks have proved just the opposite. These statements have been so tangibly invalidated, and I've never been so happy to hear that something I've learned was wrong. While this revolution has rendered a good deal of what we learned in our political science class about Egypt useless, I think it's a good trade-off. Eighteen days of protest is far from passive. And overthrowing your regime through as peaceful a means as one can hope for in revolution is certainly something to be proud of.

To quote my cousin, who has lived in Cairo all her life and just witnessed her country change forever: LONG LIVE THE YOUTH POWER. LONG LIVE EGYPT.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Daily Thanks

What I try to do every day is to give thanks for what I have and what I have been given. Every morning when I wake up, I am thankful for another day of life. Before praying and wishing for things I want, I always start off saying how grateful I am for what I already have. I do this because I know that being needy and unsatisfied constantly is a selfish way to live. As any other creature on the planet, I am also aware that my days on this planet are limited; none of us know how long we have in this life. Being thankful humbles me and makes me appreciate even the smallest details that make my life what is.

At the same time, I also look forward to whatever future I will have, and hopefully more success and personal fulfillment. I may not be the most ambitious person in the world, but I have goals that I have for myself. Being thankful for what I do have does not make me complacent and unwilling to change; after all change is an unalterable fact of life.

This may seem unrealistic to many people who feel that if they stay still for a moment to be thankful for what they have and have had is not possible. I see this restlessness in strangers and the people closest to me who are unsatisfied and unhappy for a variety of reasons. It is so easy to see the glass half empty, but to see it half full is a challenge. I do the latter because when I see those who have had more to suffer in life than I have, yet still forge through life with positivity and grace, I feel grounded. When I hear about those who go through unimaginable tragedies, it reminds me that I am no different than them; anything can happen at any time.

Being thankful is an essential component of my daily life. It gives me strength to face challenges of all kinds, even when I am less grateful on some days rather than others.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sacrificing Sleep & Restoring Sanity

Last spring, I was struggling to keep myself organized given all of my social and work commitments. These past few months, I've been able to stay on top of my hectic schedule and my Google calendar has basically become my best friend. My main problem now? Being busier than ever.

There have been stretches of time over the last few years when I found myself busier than usual, but never like this! Unless I'm sick, there is never a day when I don't have something scheduled. When I say this to my friends, they thing I'm exaggerating, until I show them my calendar and they get exhausted just looking at it. I have to admit that there have been a couple of times when the mere thought of having to open my calendar had me completely overwhelmed. But the thing is that I haven't really had a chance to take a break.

Between work and work-related events, dating, spending time with best friends, catching up with old friends, etc., there just isn't a day with nothing to do. I keep saying that I'll give myself a break, but something always comes up: a friend who moved is back in town, a co-worker's birthday, and on and on. It never ends!

But I have to say that even though I know I need a break, it feels great to meet new people and deepen my bond with existing friends. These days, I find myself constantly reminded of how lucky I am to know the people I know and to have them in my life. If I lose some hours of sleep in the meantime, at least that time was spent with the people who keep me sane.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Women Count

I suppose it's true in every industry that there is still some sort of glass ceiling, some limitation on women's contributions, or unequal pay for equal work. Among writers, this can be hard to gauge. As independent workers, we exist outside of many of the structures that would allow us to study and know about these discrepancies, plus the quality of our work is highly subjective, so it's often hard to compare ourselves to others--men or women.

I was saddened recently to learn that there are many powerful people in publishing who seem to believe--consciously or subconsciously--that women's writing is inherently weaker than men's. To the point where women writers have been excluded from some very important exposure opportunities. A non-profit called VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts has been studying women's representation in major literary venues, like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper's, and The New Republic. VIDA volunteers counted how many women were included in the 2010 issues of these publications, either as contributors, reviewers or review subjects. Literally, counted.

The statistics The Count generated might surprise you. They surprised me. In the majority of these publications, women's representation was down around 25%- 30%. REALLY? Sure, we've known anecdotally for some time that women get published less frequently than men, and that we get less attention for our work than do men. But having the facts and figures to back it up really makes the knowledge hit home. Hopefully, it also means we can begin taking steps toward greater equality of representation. Starting now.

To learn more about VIDA's Count, view all the pie charts, and participate in the discussion, debate and even dissention it has generated, check out:
Do you think women are well-represented in print media? Any favorite publications you know that have a better ratio of representation?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Forum: Valentine's Day

Earlier this week, Sally reminded us that Valentine's Day is coming up. It's a holiday some people love and other people dread, so where do you stand?

Do you like celebrating Valentine's Day? If you don't, why not? And if you do, what are your plans this year?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Get to Writing!

The year has been flying by (who else woke up on Feb. 1st & thought "it's already February?!"), but sometimes you need to take some time to reflect and check in with yourself. What better way to do that than putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and sharing what you're going through with others?

Want to share your New Year's resolutions? Looking for advice and feedback on a problem you're having? Want to brag about a recent accomplishment? You can do any of these things by submitting a guest blogger post to CHICKS ROCK!

All you'll need to do is read the guest blogger guidelines we've created for you and send your post over to us. If you're looking for some direction or examples of the wide range of topics you can write about, be sure to look through the posts of other guest bloggers to get an idea of what they shared. Once you've done that, then get to writing!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Culinary Confessions

I am not an avid fan of television anymore, especially since I don’t own a TV, but I do manage to enjoy watching two cooking channels whenever I have the chance. I love old episodes of Iron Chef Japan, which I believe is the best cooking competition show ever; all those series that have followed in its footsteps (including its American equivalent) will never be as good as the elaborate original. Even though I don’t eat meat or poultry, which the show constantly used in all of its dishes, but the culinary artistry and skill used to create these and other ingredients into something visually and tastefully appealing was and is something I admire.

Cooking is something I enjoy doing, even if I don’t have time every day to make all the elaborate dishes I want to make. It is something I never thought I couldn’t do; I always had an affinity for baking, stir-frying and more. I will never understand those who “can’t boil water” or won’t even attempt making a salad or sandwich, at the very least; it is beyond me. There is something wonderful about making a meal that you and/or others will consume, because you know exactly what goes into it and what it takes to create it.

One of the many things I want to do starting this year is to take cooking classes from cultures around the world, and this week I start with Thailand. A local restaurant hosts a class once a month, and I am looking forward to starting with Thai spices and other food staples to create something that I can hopefully re-create later on at home. Ultimately I would love to go to France or Italy to do one of those “culinary vacations,” surrounded by gorgeous landscapes and working with fresh and delicious ingredients. I want to do it for myself most of all; if people I know and love want to taste the fruits of my labor and they enjoy them, then that is an added bonus.

Does anyone else have any culinary confessions to share?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Single Valentine

Valentine's Day, like most holidays really, has never been a big deal to me. It's a nice day to do something extra special with somebody you love, so the idea of it is cute, but I just never cared much. This year, however, I find myself unable to ignore it, probably because it's my first single Valentine's Day in 6 years.

I contemplated spending the day watching movies on my laptop and eating pints of ice cream, but then I realized this was the perfect excuse to have a ladies' night. I have three incredible friends, also single, who I've been able to lean on these past few months, and yet we've never all spent time together -- in fact, two of them have never even met! It's weird to think that these people who are so important in my life don't know each other as well, so what a better time to remedy that than on Valentine's Day?

We still haven't decided exactly what we'll do... Should we have dinner at a cheap restaurant, get drinks at a swanky lounge, watch a sappy movie, some combination of those things, or something else altogether? My only request was that we dress to impress and make the most of being each other's dates for the night. Other than that, I'm not worried because whatever we decide to do, I'm sure it'll be great.

Who knows what Valentine's Day might mean to me in the future, but for now I'm just enjoying that I'm lucky enough to have three smart, talented, beautiful Valentines.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Will of the Mind

I've been thinking a lot about blank pages lately. How it feels as a writer to open a new document and stare at the vast expanse of whiteness, expecting something to flow. Some days it comes, some days it doesn't. On the days it doesn't it seems easier and more practical to just throw in the towel and go back to bed. But there are pesky things like deadlines to keep, and editors waiting for my work to cross their desks. I have a living to make, and this is how I've chosen to make it. So I stare at the blinking cursor and wait.

When I was in high school marching band, our band director often used the following quote to inspire us to do just one more run through of our drill: "Commitment is the will of the mind to finish what the heart has started, long after the mood in which the promise was made has faded."

Back then, I thought he was getting it all wrong--I was convinced that the heart itself was what had to carry us through. Because that was how excited and passionate I felt about marching band, the friends I'd made, the camaraderie and the music. As an adult and a novelist, I now recognize what he meant, how the heart so easily causes that first leap, the first creative burst of "Yes, I have this story to tell," without regard for all the effort, all the hard work that lies ahead.

Whether it is keeping the commitment of blogging every week, or facing the challenge of finishing a novel manuscript, sometimes in my creative life I find myself staring at a blank page and having little, if anything, to say. It is nothing but the will of the mind that keeps me sitting at the keyboard. What is amazing, though, is that when I find that will, somehow the heart kicks in.

We are constantly creating, painting our lives, writing our stories day in and day out. It is helpful to think about that, to realize that I am not trying to make something out of nothing, but that I draw from my life, my improvised, creative existence to do my creative work. Maybe my teenage self wasn't all wrong: The will of the mind is required, but it is the will of the heart that gets the job done in the end.

What leaps is your heart driving you to take? Do you have the will to follow it through?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Forum: Great News, Groundhog

On Groundhog Day this week, the groundhog didn't see his shadow, which means we're due for an early spring. With snow and ice covering the landscape, we certainly can't wait.

What are you looking forward to this spring?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Link Love for 2/3

We've been having so much fun putting these round-ups together, we actually missed posting them. Hopefully you have as much fun reading the links, because we've got a great set today.

Awaken Your CAREERpreneur talks about goal-setting for the new year and focuses on three as the magic number.

Girl w/Pen takes a closer look at how we measure success for our children when comparing education in China and the U.S.

In Good Company introduces a new approach for dealing with sticky situations: the most respectful interpretation.

Lindsey Pollak has advice for getting through the winter blues by getting organized and advancing your career goals.

One Writeous Chick wants us to strive to make the new year not the best ever, but one of valuable experiences.

Woodhull Institute's blog examines the princess culture we've created for young girls and the myths behind it.

What have you been writing and reading online? Be sure to leave a link in the comments.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Singing Karaoke's Praises

I recently discovered that I like to sing. While I am no singer, my voice does not necessarily shatter glass either. Thanks to karaoke in private rooms with family and friends, I have learned to love the microphone, and sing along to songs that will entertain. I find that it relieves stress, injects humor into everyone involved. Karaoke with people you care about is a good thing, and I am glad I figured this out for myself.

I first realized how fun karaoke was when I went out for my sister’s bachelorette party in December in Manhattan’s Koreatown. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that instead of singing in front of strangers, our party had its own room, as did other groups. It was liberating to belt out along to songs from the 80s, 90s and 2000s with complete freedom and jump around if the feeling struck me. While I cannot sing high enough or mess up the words at times singing along to my favorite (and not so favorite) songs, I feel free and safe enough to keep singing until I am satisfied.

When I went out again in January with my cousins and siblings to celebrate three birthdays, I realized how excited we were to sing songs we didn’t have an opinion of or may not have even liked. While my brother sang along to a Phil Collins ballad (a song I think we all liked) the rest of my family and I waved our hands back and forth in the air along with the music. Why did we do this? We wanted to support him by setting the mood; it was a very plaintive and moving song. We felt so energized after singing our hearts out in karaoke that night that we didn’t seem to mind the cold so much as we walked to Port Authority, which is about a 12-20 minute about going one way. This is one of the reasons I see myself performing karaoke in the near future in the same manner.

Do you love or hate karaoke?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A New Friendship Hurdle

We've written before about how hard it can be to make new friends once you're out of college. Sometimes it's hard to open up to people at work, friends of friends aren't always your cup of tea, and it's challenging to stay in touch. In the last few months, I've been able to make a few good friends, but now I've uncovered a new hurdle -- at least for myself.

I've always considered myself an honest person and I'm don't usually have a problem with privacy. Because of that, I find myself easily telling people intimate details about myself and my relationships, so long as the privacy of the other people involved is protected. But one thing I've noticed is that there's usually a point in which that stops. I'm starting to find that instead of holding back in the beginning and then easily letting go later on, I'm an open book at first and then it's harder to pry me open.

Now that I'm spending more time hanging out with people and making new friends, this is starting to become much more noticeable. At the moment, there's one person I'm becoming good friends with, and I recently reached the point where I wasn't sure just how much I was willing to share. Despite the fact that we know each other fairly well by now and that I had no problem disclosing all sorts of information about myself before, I was suddenly stuck.

This has now happened with a couple of people, and I'm happy to say I've been able to push through it each time (though some more easily than others). I'm still not entirely sure how to not feel that way, but I'm adding it to the growing list of things I'm trying to explore with myself in the new year.

Is there anything you've learned about yourself recently that you're trying to work on?

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