Category Archives: Writing

We’re Not Supposed to Have All the Answers

Today I finished my second semester as an MBA student at UNT. So far, it has been the most difficult one. The MBA is a path to understanding leadership, decision-making, supply chains, organization, and management. In my case, it also covers behavior analysis. I’m happy to say, after three changes, I finally settled on an MBA concentration. I tried Marketing and Marketing Analytics only to realize how much I prefer obsessing over writing plots and character development to memorizing content.

One good thing to come out of me returning to school is I became more active on the UNT campus than at my previous universities. At the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL), I was always too busy working or completing a project to make time to volunteer. At Murray State (MSU), there were events and get-togethers I wanted to attend, but it was a two-and-a-half hour drive to campus. At UNT, I seemed to fall into roles. I was a part of a graduate panel that spoke to new graduate students about what to expect. I joined the Graduate Student Council (GSC), attended meetings, worked as their Director of Marketing for a semester, and volunteered to represent GSC at campus events. In addition to my extracurricular activities, I was also a volunteer in my neighborhood HOA. I was on the communication committee, the landscaping committee, freelance writing, and trying to run my own small business on the side.

My job didn’t help either. I was working full-time and attending classes full-time, but emotionally drained from the daily battle between reality and insanity at work. There were many days I prayed a sinkhole would open in the floor and transport me to another universe. I felt stifled, trapped, undervalued, invisible, and misunderstood; but as a result of that horrible experience, I developed a passion for examining the forces that lead to bad company culture, and decided to study the methods to repair it. That’s where behavior analysis comes in. My MBA concentration is Behavior Analysis and Human Resources. In addition, I’m concurrently pursuing a certification in Applied Behavior Analysis. It’s hard to believe that all of this happened in the spring, during my first semester.

The semester I just completed was summer. The most difficult part about this semester was transitioning. I was burned out from being the leader of everything and trying to make the world a better place. The only way to save myself was to disconnect. I didn’t apply for an officer position with GSC or make myself available for summer events. I resigned from the communications committee to focus on the landscaping committee, but closed the landscaping committee after the troll activity got out of hand. I stopped freelancing, closed my small business, took a break from travel writing, and resigned from my job. The pressure that came after all of this was intense. Although I’d dropped everything, homework for three 5-week summer classes was insane and looking for a new job became a full-time chore. There are bad days and not so bad days, but I stand by my decisions.

I put this quote on the wall in my office to remind me there’s a story behind everything. Mine is still being written.

Eventually all things fall into place. Until then, laugh at the confusion,

live for the moment and know that everything happens for a reason.

~Albert Schweitzer

In three weeks, fall semester starts. I’m taking the time in-between to rediscover my love of reading, focus on my writing, and spend less energy stressing about my career.  I remember coming to a similar epiphany after my second semester at MSU when things hadn’t turned out as planned. I look forward to fall, new beginnings, and fresh discoveries. This experience has taught me: (1) you’ll never reach a point in life where everything falls into place so you won’t face struggles. It’s how you handle them that builds character; (2) give the best of yourself to the world and expect the best in return; and (3) Life is too short to be unhappy. Take chances, discover new opportunities, and remember to laugh at yourself.

Thanks for following me on this journey.

Until next time.

 

 

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Begin Again – 100 mph

I originally planned to write another career post, but it’s been a while since I gave an update on my latest journey. Buckle your seat belt. It’s a wild one.

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via GIPHY

Regular visitors to The Next Hundred Miles are familiar with my long distance journey to the MFA.  My last post announced my decision to pursue a second masters, this time an MBA, at the University of North Texas in Denton. Fellow graduate school survivors who may still be in rehabilitation after their thesis defense understand the insanity of this notion. Before I get too far ahead on this journey, I should explain why I decided to return to school in the first place. Furthermore, if I must return to school and amass an avalanche of student debt, why a second masters instead of a doctorate?

After graduation, I began searching for the job of my dreams and life has been moving about a hundred miles per hour. I spent a year in Garland, Texas (don’t move there), adjusted to the loss of an important family member, gained experience in some career fields I liked less than others, received a lifetime ban from a certain rental car provider (why would anyone steal a Yaris), and moved to Fort Worth.

In addition to becoming a new homeowner, the biggest source of stress during this time was my job. I’m sure we all have horrible job stories. In fact, I’d love to hear some of yours in the comments below, but everyone has the right to be sane in their place of employment.

Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy. If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself; you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.”

– Johnny Carson

You may have heard this before, but money does not guarantee happiness. No matter how much you make or what material things it affords, money will never provide enough joy to suppress a toxic workplace.

I had a job in writing, a great salary, leadership opportunities, and a headache all day, every day. You’re right, no job is expected to be perfect, but there are many things I wish I’d heard during my graduate student commencement to better prepare me for the unexpected, but some of the best lessons are learned through firsthand experience:

  1. Your first job may not be your last job. It may be a stepping stone to provide experience for the positions you really want.
  2. Not everyone in management is qualified to manage or lead others.
  3. You’re not a failure if it doesn’t work out. It’s okay to change your mind.
  4. Some people at toxic companies have no desire to change.
  5. If the job you choose is a poor fit, find one that matches your size.

I always seem to find employment in places with poor company culture and terrible management. There have been times when I have been tasked with repairing it. Other times, it is simply DOA. I’ve learned so much in the past three years about the importance of company culture and the casualties of poor management. It’s not something taught in college unless you study Business Management or Human Resources, so I decided to return to college and acquire the skills necessary to help employers rehabilitate company culture and choose managers that are best suited to fit within that culture.

A second masters was the most logical choice for my career path. PhD candidates are in school to master their field of expertise so they can teach others, write educational materials, or do something Nobel prize worthy like curing cancer, discovering new ways to sustain the planet, or saving us all from a rabid, childish, hateful government intent on reversal and destruction, making the world a happier place.

I posted career advice in hopes of reaching someone who may share a similar experience, but I have missed sharing my journey with you and promise to bring you with me on this next ride. Don’t worry, I just completed my first semester and have plenty to share. I’ve missed you.

Until next time.

 

 

Déjà vu – Defining Your Career Path to Make Good Art

I’m about to test the limits of my sanity by returning to graduate school in January for another masters degree.

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Before you ask, no I was not drunk or under duress when I made this decision. I was thinking of the future and trying to determine what would be most beneficial to advance my career.

Since moving to Forth Worth two years ago it seems as if I’m still assembling puzzle pieces in this game of life. Some pieces are still elusive and others extremely difficult to acquire, but the ultimate goal is to settle into a career that excites me. Can a career be a source of happiness? Absolutely!

I often write about career happiness and the importance of making sure a job is the right fit, because we generally spend 8-10 hours a day (or more) working. Doing something you enjoy has a positive effect on the mind, body, and spirit. Doing tasks you do not enjoy for extended periods of time produces a negative effect and can be damaging to the mind, body, and spirit.

I finally watched Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech and felt encouraged upon its conclusion. He talked about the importance of doing work that pleases you and not forcing yourself into conformity. Jobs said:

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. You’ll know when you find it.

His words reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” commencement speech. I found Gaiman’s words to be encouraging while I pursued an MFA. He states:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.

So why do we waste our talents in lackluster positions instead of pursuing something more pleasing and making good art? It’s not about having the courage to follow your dreams. Many of us are already doing that. It’s just easier to make good art when you have a reliable source of income.

Jobs asked, “If today were the last day of my life would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

His response:

If the answer is no for too many days in a row [you] need to change something. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I’m glad I earned an MFA. It provided me with tools I needed to get on the path of becoming an author, helped me develop relationships with other writers, and opened doors to career opportunities in writing that previously did not exist.

For all intensive purposes I have a job for which I’m thankful, but when I asked myself Jobs’ question the answer was a resounding no. I’m a trapezoid that doesn’t wan’t to fit into someone else’s idea of the perfect box. An MBA in Marketing will enhance my current skillset, complement my other degrees, and hopefully make me more marketable to the type of companies for which I’m better suited.

In the meantime, while I’m looking for escape routes from my current box I’ll be preparing for a new journey to an MBA. I hope you will come along with me for the trip. If it’s anything like the MFA you can expect an exciting journey.

Trust your intuition. Find your career path. Make good art.

How to Write About Something That Doesn’t Interest You and Still Get Paid

Not all topics are exciting or interesting to write about, but as writers we are occasionally tasked with the impossible – to make that which induces boredom and encourages narcolepsy sound interesting.

Sometimes this requires superhuman writing powers: a monthly energy conservation newsletter no one reads, a review of a a hotel with a history of thefts and drive-by-shootings, or a travel destination piece on a location tourists should never visit, let alone consider as a vacation spot, unless torture, captivity, and imminent death are on their list of must-see attractions.

There are misconceptions about the life of a writer. Some have great magazine or script writing jobs, but they normally don’t come overnight or without a lot of networking. Many work 8 – 5 at jobs they hate that may have nothing to do with writing, but provide health insurance and the rent paid while they search the job ads for something more fulfilling. Others work mundane jobs that barely pay the bills, but give them time to write. The idea that we sit by the beach or lake all day churning out magnificent pages for our next novel is a fantasy.

But the opportunity to write – in any capacity- is priceless, which means sometimes working on something you hate.

Usually the promise of a paycheck, the anticipation of a byline, or fear of your reputation being eternally ruined so that you never get published is enough to keep you writing. In case none of this works here are some things to get you through it:

  • Give yourself a deadline or a strict punishment if you miss it.
  • Imagine winning a Pulitzer for your research and all those who told you to get a real job were forced to sit in the audience and clap.
  • Have a glass of wine when you finish. You probably already drank the entire bottle.
  • Compare “my job is worse” stories with a writer friend who is also procrastinating.
  • Have a mini-dance party with loud music and angry lyrics.
  • Imagine what life will be like when you’re living in a box with no electricity.
  • Write the piece the way you would if you could say all the things you really wanted to say and not get fired. Then write it the way you’re supposed to.

If none of these suggestions work, swap out the wine for a few shots of vodka and put your fingers to work on the best piece of drivel they’ve ever read. Once it’s published and you become the author you’ve always dreamed of becoming share it with a writer who is new to the game as encouragement that things can always go up from here.

 

 

 

 

Why Hire a Freelance Writer Instead of Doing It Yourself?

 

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Remember the time you decided to paint the living room yourself and an hour later it looked like a group of three-year-olds helped you play hide the baseboards? It’s the same concept when it comes to hiring a freelancing service to complete a creative project. You are capable of doing it yourself, but a professional has certain skills that would provide a more professional output.

Hiring a freelancer does not mean you lack creative skills. It could have nothing to do with creativity at all. It could be you have so many projects you don’t have time. Or it requires work in an area you are familiar with, but not an expert. Hiring a freelancer means you care enough about your creative project to want it done right.

How do you find a freelancer?

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Luckily, it’s a social media world, so the best place to find what you’re looking for is online.  Sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Indeed, and even a Google search will provide good options. Many freelancers have business pages advertising their services or are working within a group of freelancers.

How do you know which freelancer to hire?

A good freelancer should have a portfolio of completed work. If it is not available on their website, ask to see it. It’s a good sign if you like what you see. If there is not an example of the type of project you want, but you like the rest of their work, ask to see a sample draft. Make sure to ask if there is a charge for the draft. Imagine taking your vehicle to a mechanic and asking for a repair estimate. You will most likely be charged a small fee for the work that was done regardless of whether you decide to hire the mechanic. Freelancers provide the same service and deserve to be paid for their work – even estimates.

How much should I expect to pay once I hire a freelancer?

Depending upon the project, a freelancer may charge by the hour, by the word, or a flat rate. Be specific in defining your needs and ask for a quote. Don’t be dismayed if the quote is a range between X dollars and X dollars. Sometimes more is involved in providing the desired output and a specific rate cannot be arrived at until they get deeper in. As long as you are okay with the range it is okay to hire them. Just make sure to sign a rate agreement before work begins.

I love my project. How do I reward my freelancer?

Word-of-mouth and repeat business are the best ways to thank your freelancer for their services (besides paying them in a timely manner).

Back to Basics – A Writer’s Journey

It’s never too late to start over. The original plan after graduation was to turn my thesis back into the novel it was on the way to becoming. At the time I was working on a novel of linked stories and to comply with thesis requirements I had to choose three to present. After thesis when I began to put it back into its original format I realized I no longer liked the way it was laid out. Not only that, I had grown as a writer and my characters had matured. So basically, I started from the beginning.

Many writers cringe when they look at their old writings. I started by separating what I liked about what I had written from what needed to be discarded, and now I’m in the process of rebuilding the story.

For me, the most difficult part of writing is self-judgment. I’m my harshest critic. I learned at a young age to aim for perfection, but in writing, as in life, perfection does not exist. Unfortunately, this habit of harshly criticizing my own work produced writers block and delayed the progression of my work.

I was pleased to discover I’m not the only writer with this habit. I follow @thewritelife on Twitter and saw their blog post “The Real Source of Writer’s Block (And and Exercise to Beat It).”  The post recalled how as children we effortlessly told stories because our audience mainly consisted of our parents. As we grew older we became aware of a larger audience and doubt settled in, which produces writers block.

To combat writers block the author recommends a five-minute free writing session before you begin to write. During the five minutes you are encouraged to purge your thoughts onto the page. The purpose of this exercise is to find your writer’s voice in a judgment-free place so that you can once again capture that childlike spirit of producing judgment-free work (that will one day be harshly judged by others). The exercise may seem menial at first, but if you stick with it, eventually when you do start writing again you’ve stopped judging your work enough to write freely.

I have not tried this technique, but definitely plan to do so. I have a novel to finish.

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business

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Life after graduation feels a lot like being on a Ferris wheel at the carnival. The ride begins slowly. When it picks up the pace it sometimes takes you places you realize you don’t want to go, but you must stay seated until the ride comes to a complete stop. At times, it seems as if the ride will never end, but eventually it does, and you get to try something else.

I received my masters degree two-and-a-half years ago, but it feels more like a year. In that time, I’ve settled in Fort Worth, dismantled my thesis in an attempt to create a well-written novel, started a collection of short stories, and set out on a quest to find the job of my dreams.

The novel and short stories currently riding the Ferris wheel are works in progress. Like me, they anxiously await the moment I get THE JOB OFFER OF A LIFETIME so that my quest can end.

Is it really that important to find the right job? Absolutely!

What interests you? Where do your strengths lie? What do you do exceptionally well? These are the important questions to ask yourself when choosing a career path, or considering a job offer. It’s not about what you majored in, but what makes you happy. We can all agree it’s best to find a job you love, but if you’re stuck in one you hate then everything else in your universe will be thrown off balance until the ride ends.

Professional career coach, Christie Mims, describes job dissatisfaction in her Muse article, “2 Big Signs You Don’t Just Need a New Job, You Need a Whole Career.”

She writes:

  • You’re currently slumped over your desk.

  • The very thought of work makes your stomach curdle.

  • When you try and muster excitement about that next PowerPoint or team meeting, you suddenly start to daydream about chucking it all and opening a bar on the beach.

The image Mims depicts summarizes a typical workday for someone stuck in the wrong career. So how do you get off the Ferris wheel of a job from hell?  First figure out where you went wrong in choosing your current position. What aspects of the job make you the most miserable? If the problem is with a co-worker or manager ask yourself if the job would be fine without their presence. If so, it’s not the job.

If you truly don’t enjoy the day-to-day tasks in your position, feel uninspired, bored, and stifled it’s time to start looking at other career paths.  In “Finally! A Simple Formula for Finding Your Passion,” Mims writes:

Some of the things you are passionate about are probably going to be hobbies, like chocolate is for me. But some of them will be new career options.

There is a correlation between the things you are passionate about and your career pursuits. Why not work doing something you enjoy? It will make you a much better employee and happier person.

Once you figure out what you want to do, how do you go about finding a dream job? It is important to determine what factors meet dream job criteria.

Do you need an exercise membership as one of the company’s benefits? What are your salary expectations? Are flexible hours important? Would you like to travel? What about company culture? Do you prefer a small company where you rarely interact with your co-workers or a larger environment with numerous opportunities for group outings and recognition? Before you begin to search for a new position, figure out what you want.

When you’re ready to search, start within your own network. Contact friends, colleagues, and mentors to see if you can connect with their network. The best way to get hired is by referral.

If you have a small network or are just beginning to establish a network try the job boards. I’m not a big fan of the creative job recruiting agencies, but it doesn’t hurt if you find one you enjoy working with.

Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are top-notch, and avoid posting anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see on social media. Thinking of hiding your profiles? Don’t. It makes it appear as if you have no social media presence at all. This can hurt your chances of securing your dream job.

While you’re waiting, stay up-to-date on the latest interviewing techniques, media trends, and technology. Subscribe to several career blogs and read their recommendations about how to create a personal brand. The Muse regularly posts career articles and some job leads as well.

If writing is your thing, check out job listings from some of the writing magazines or offer freelance services to build your portfolio while you wait. I strongly recommend practicing the AP Stylebook Quizzes to stay on top of your skills.

Best of luck in your endeavor.