What “Where’s Waldo” Can Teach Us About Finding The Right Opportunity

img_0287-1

Does anyone else feel that when an opportunity presents itself, you’d be a fool not to take it? That it would be a “resume booster” and an experience that could be beneficial to your overall self rather than detrimental?

Lately, opportunities have been coming at us at every angle (you might argue that’s such a great thing!)–a part-time job here, graduate school student over there, oh wait, there’s another part-time job over here too selling cricket protein bars, another opportunity to be apart of a huge app launch, a facilitator at TEDxNewYorkSalon, a summer full-time position at a major banking company, and who knows what tomorrow will bring–but it’s when we were sitting in Washington Square Park that we realized we are all over the darn map!

For some reason, we thought of “Where’s Waldo.”

Maybe it’s because the nature of Washington Square Park on a sunny-80-degrees day is reminiscent of those old school Waldo games we played as a kid…hundreds of people, activities all around, objects, trumpet players, street performers, trees, even some brave souls taking a dip inside the fountain, yet ONE Waldo. It got us thinking…

When we are not focused and disciplined on doing one thing at a time like solely concentrating on finding Waldo, we don’t have our “eye on the prize” and are blinded at seeing what we really need to see. This leads to distractions, to confusions, and to overwhelming feelings–all of which we’ve been going through these past few months.

Things are just not going the way we want them to go. We’re not where we want to be. In fact, we are so frustrated thinking about ways to grow Renaissance Swag that we are looking at every opportunity that comes our way as the ah-ha! opportunity that gets us off the ground. We’re unfocused. But the Universe has a funny way of working, you just have to be open enough to see it. You have to follow the signs and listen to your intuition.

So there we were, sitting on a bench (one of our favorite places to be), overlooking the fountain and arch, listening to this young lad play the guitar to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,”  and two people approach us, with a sign in hand saying “Made with Love” and a container filled with some baked goods.

IMG_5621

“Do you have a minute,” they asked. We looked at each other, sighed a small sigh thinking, “How do we always get suckered into these raffle/fundraisers(!),” but we said, “Yeah, whatya got…” Well, let’s just say, twenty minutes later, we looked at each other again after they had walked away, this time with a smile on our face, thinking we just got “God winked,” as we like to call it or you could even say, “Waldoed.”

Their story about traveling the world for 8-months from places like Croatia, Norway, Sweden Egypt, and Italy to find homemade recipes “Made with Love” of all cultures was so inspirational, let alone mouth watering! You could see the love in their personality and the passion in their voice, so much that we recognized we had lost a bit of that sparkle ourselves.  Comparing ourselves to others and trying to echo the top players in the blogging world are certainly big reasons why we feel our sparkle is fading. So it was refreshing to listen to both Leila and Anthony tell us their stories.

So here’s the scoop, for awhile now, we’ve had a vision to create a band of women looking to all sectors of thought, career, relationship status, age, wellness, culture, entrepreneurship and creating a story of Renaissance Women with 21st Century Swag – women that blend the old with the new.

This is not about pushing women to hold masculine roles contradicting their feminine inclinations, but rather, on the contrary, this is getting women to come back to their roots. We started contacting women to interview, but haven’t officially executed, letting those doubts seep in like:

“Who’s going to want to read this anyway?”

“So many other people are doing similar things? What makes us different”

“Will we be providing value?”

But then, a “God-wink.” Leila, the Co-Founder of “Made with Love,” said something that for anyone else wouldn’t mean a thing, but for us was a cue to follow what our hearts have been telling us all along…”you should interview my sister, she’s a badass woman, totally Renaissance Swag.”

ARE YOU KIDDING, ME?!?! Thank you, UNIVERSE!

You might say that was a coincidence. But for us, that was exactly the sign we needed. One simple word. One short encounter. And we are feeling more focused and driven than ever. We knew it all along, but forgot about it along the way.

The message we are getting across is this: when you focus your energy and discipline yourself to seeing the right opportunity that is in alignment with yourself then you will keep seeing the path you need to take, you will keep finding Waldo.


 So what does this all mean and how can we learn from this?

 

1. PAY ATTENTION TO THE SIGNS.

The real problem of life is resistance. Resistance, as Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art, is “a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”

So by going on a spiritual path of  nonresistance we are in essence, following the signs, the cues, the God-winks, and the Waldos. It is our ego that wants to tell us these signs are not what we are supposed to be doing. It is the ego that fills your mind with all those doubts and fears. But it is the self that knows what is right for your greater good. Don’t resist the signs. Follow them. You’ll get closer and closer to fulfilling your purpose.

2. TRUST YOUR INTUITION.

How many times have we heard that? Yet, how many times do we actually listen to it? Your intuition is there for you to help you in places of danger, telling you something doesn’t feel right. So too is it there for you when resistance comes knocking on your door. Resistance is louder than your intuition, but it can become weaker when we defy it and we start to listen. Listen to that little voice within, that gut response, that energetic pull. Intuition will always be there pointing you in the right direction, we just have to silence the honking that’s happening all around us and focus in on the whisper of intuition.

Can you find Waldo now?  WheresWaldo

With focus and concentration,

Going for the hard sell as interest in English major declines

Mary Garhart fell in love with reading in middle school, devouring Christopher Paolini’s fantasy novel “Eragon” and the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Then she moved to classics from Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities,” and Charlotte Brontë, “Jane Eyre.” She had a yen for writing. What’s more, there were literary influences in her family: a grandmother with a master’s degree in English, a grandfather who taught English.

So when Garhart entered the University of Maryland in fall 2011, she had no doubt about her field of study. “English,” she said, “is the obvious major.”

This has been true for generations of college students drawn to the poetry, drama, novels and other works of a language that has become a global medium since its origins centuries ago in the British Isles.

But for many, English is not so obvious anymore.

Like several disciplines in the humanities, English has faced hard questions in recent years. The Great Recession of 2008-09 led a growing number of students, urged by parents who want a “return” on their tuition investment, to pick majors they perceived as more likely to enhance their career prospects. This preoccupation with an economic rationale for going to college had been building for many years. But the economic downturn and its aftermath compounded job worries.

Numbers from College Park, home of the flagship public university of Maryland, tell a story that echoes in one way or another at schools across the country.

In fall 2009, there were 792 English majors among U-Md. undergraduates. That was nearly equal the total of computer science majors, 796. Five years later the computer science total had more than doubled, to 1,730. The total for English had fallen 39 percent, to 483.

English was hardly alone in decline. Down at least a quarter in that span were major totals for anthropology, art history, general biology and history.

At the University of Virginia, the English major count fell 18 percent from 2009 to 2013. History was down 31 percent; philosophy, 40 percent. Computer science was up 108 percent.

Nationwide about 50,000 students a year earn bachelor’s degrees in English, a total little changed in this century even as the number of degrees conferred in all subjects has risen nearly 50 percent. Students these days choose from an ever-expanding academic menu, with specialized majors in business, health, engineering, security, technology and other fields.

Fluctuations in demand are common. One topic might get hot as another cools. Arabic studies, introduced at College Park in 2008, has developed a solid niche. Interest in American studies has slid. The journalism major with a “multiplatform” focus has taken off as more consumers rely on digital news sources. The journalism major focused on magazines is being phased out.

Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the College of Arts & Humanities at U-Md. since 2011, said there are often “ebbs and flows” in majors. But she acknowledged that her college, home to English, history and other core departments, must ramp up recruiting. Dill said she wants to “bust the myths” students might hold about the value of English and certain other majors in the job market.

“The approaches that we use in teaching the humanities and the arts … do give students the skills that employers are looking for,” Dill said. “And they also give students skills that are transferable to a lot of different kinds of work settings and situations.” Employers, she said, “need people who have broader capabilities to be creative and thoughtful.”

Across the country, humanities majors are under siege as politicians have questioned their economic value.

In January 2014, President Obama talked up the virtues of manufacturing at the expense of art history. “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” he said. “Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history.” (Obama later apologized for the remark.)

Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), a possible Republican presidential candidate, lamented in a speech that many students take on debt to obtain degrees that won’t lead to a job. “So you can decide whether it’s worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major,” Rubio said. “Because the market for Greek philosophers is tight.”

There is much debate about the value of different degrees. It takes some graduates a while to reach their full earning potential. Others pursue lower-paying careers in public service that offer intangible benefits. There are powerful (and countless) arguments for why learning is valuable for its own sake. But many students and parents measure value in salaries.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, analyzing 2013 census data, found that college graduates ages 25 to 59 earned a median annual wage of $61,000. English majors earned a median annual wage of $53,000. Computer science majors earned $83,000.

The English department at College Park, recognizing that it must market itself, relies on an economic pitch. A leaflet in its office — “So, you’re thinking about majoring in English?” — tells prospective students: “Some of our English majors go on to teach, but many others become editors, writers, lawyers, businesswomen or researchers. Some English majors even become doctors!”

Garhart, 21, a senior from Anne Arundel County, wants to explore book publishing. An English major from the start, she also is minoring in creative writing. To boost her career options, she decided to pursue a second major in business management. After a nerve-racking process that included taking prerequisite classes in accounting, economics and statistics; gathering recommendations; and applying to the university’s Smith School of Business, she got in. She will need five years to finish her studies . Tuition and fees for Maryland residents, not counting books, room and board, total more than $9,500 a year.

Does she enjoy business classes as much as she does the Novel in America to 1914? Or Literature of London, which she took one spring?

“I don’t think I’ll ever love any other course as much as English,” Garhart said.

English professors are also keen to attract students who might not see themselves as literature buffs. This spring they offered a $100 prize to the student who could make the best promotional video on “what makes English the best major at UMD.”

Department chairman William A. Cohen said the faculty has also begun sending a letter to every student who earns an A in an introductory course and is not an English major.

“I am writing to you because I noticed that you did exceptionally well last semester” in class, the letter states, “and I would encourage you to consider English as a major (or a second major).” The letter says the major requires “just 36 credits” — of at least 120 required for a bachelor’s degree — “and is flexible enough to fit in easily with your other academic pursuits.”

Amanda Bailey, an associate professor who is a Shakespeare specialist, said that when students make an astute comment in class, she often pulls them aside for a quick word of encouragement if they have not already declared in English. “You really have a knack for this,” she will say. “What’s your major?”

Typically, she emphasizes the “career viability” of the English major. “It doesn’t mean you have to be an English teacher,” she said. Medical, business and law schools are options. Good writers are in high demand in science, too.

The department’s recruiting efforts go beyond outreach. Its course catalogue includes more offerings with crossover appeal for the tech crowd: Literature in a Wired World; Writing in the Wireless World; Science, Gender and Classic Science Fiction; Literature of Science and Technology; and more. There is also broad cultural diversity — with many courses, for example, in literature from the African diaspora — as well as depth in the foundational texts: Chaucer, Shakespeare and the rest.

Will all of this work? Will English rebound at College Park?

Kent Cartwright, a veteran English professor and former department chairman, urged a shift in thinking at the highest levels of a university proud of its prowess in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “We’re so completely STEM-driven,” Cartwright said. The administration, he said, is “full of people with goodwill” toward the humanities. “But they see the well-being of the university in a certain kind of way. We’re just not part of it.”

Wallace D. Loh, president of U-Md. since 2010, disagreed. He said he likes to think of the university as a flower. “That flower has a long and very sturdy ‘STEM,’ ” Loh said. “But at the top of that STEM, there’s a flower, a blossom. And that flower is the humanities.” He said he walks around campus “with that metaphor of the flower in my head all the time. We have to nurture that blossom.”

Loh said the university is committed to maintaining a strong faculty in the humanities regardless of ups and downs in the number of majors. However, he said, if he had money to expand the faculty, and if someone proposed adding another expert in Victorian literature, “my answer is, well, not at this time.”

What about expanding faculty in computer science? Loh, worried that class sizes are nearing “intolerable” levels, said he would be more inclined to give that a green light.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. To comment on this story, e-mail wpmagazine@washpost.com or visit washingtonpost.com/magazine.

Why People Cry at Work

MAY15_01_crywork-01_bora

The stress of the workplace can bring out plenty of feelings in all of us. As an executive coach, I see joy, sadness, frustration, and disappointment on a daily basis. But while we may experience an array of emotions at work, there’s a general consensus that we shouldn’t see anyone reduced to tears, hopelessness, or defeat on the job. If you as a manager have caused an employee to cry, your primary objective is not to let it happen again. How?

First, you need to understand exactly what happened. What, specifically, caused the crying? Tears can signal sadness, or, quite frequently, they can be a cover for other feelings: frustration, anger, a sense of powerlessness, anxiety, poor self-esteem, or negative self-image. As a trained psychologist, I know that we have to consider the particular cognitive and emotional makeup of the person who’s in tears, as well as the situation that the person is in. What did that person reallywant to do: slug her insensitive boss, or walk away from a demeaning job? Those alternatives are rarely an option, so sometimes the only recourse may be to shed tears.

I’ve generally seen three primary circumstances that reduce people to tears:

The formidable manager:

It’s a good thing to be a manager who’s seen as extremely smart and highly accomplished. But remember that you may be viewed by your reports as someone who sets such a high bar that they’re quaking in their boots and sorely afraid of the consequences of not measuring up to your high standards at every turn. If that’s the case, then the simple critique you thought you’d delivered in the spirit of helping your report to develop her or his skills could have been translated as “You’ll never measure up,” resulting in a crying spell based on a sense of hopelessness. Other types of formidable managers might use fear to motivate employees, or might snap at subordinates in stressful situations, rather than using more skillful language, such as: “Hey, we’ve got a tough row to hoe here. Thanks for your effort; we all have to keep at it, but it will be worth it. Let’s stretch to reach this goal.”

Organizational culture and differences:

Like families, social groups, and geographical regions, each workplace has its own culture and expectations of behavior. In some organizations, an interaction with some edge to it is seen as the norm, and people rarely take offense. In another company, the expectation is that a critique or correction will be voiced with sensitivity and compassion. If you’re the new manager in an organization, or you’re managing a new employee, you may have erred on the side of directness when your team member was expecting more caution. I’ve often had to help a manager see that his or her definition of “calling it as I see it” equates to an employee’s sense of being unfairly attacked.

Personal life intersecting with professional life:

How many office conversations begin and end with:

“Good morning! How are you?”

“Fine; how about you?”

“Doing well, thanks.”

People don’t always reveal at work the challenges they’re facing in their lives outside of work. The person who started to cry when you mentioned that the quarterly results weren’t met may not have been hopelessly despondent about the fiscal outcome, but may have felt that everything in his or her life was currently going awry. Maybe your employee was given a diagnosis of a serious illness, experienced the loss of a close friend or family member, or was trying to absorb some other recent personal setback. Your simple observation or comment may have felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

YOU AND YOUR TEAM

Regardless of the source of your employee’s tears, it’s important to try to understand what happened. Here’s how:

First, listen. Find a safe but private place, such as an unoccupied conference room or office where you can speak quietly. Ask him what happened and listen as he tells you. It may take a while for him to formulate just what he’s feeling, so be patient. I’ve heard from formerly tearful employees that their manager’s willingness just to listen to their side restored the trust in their relationship and brought everyone to a more productive level of understanding.

Be empathic and willing to learn. Even if you don’t fully understand why your report or colleague would be upset over whatever it was that triggered the tears, your openness to consider the other’s feelings will help you work with that person more effectively and may help you to become a better manager in general.

Offer an apology if it’s appropriate. If your behavior was sub-par or could be viewed that way, let it be known that you regret your words or actions and the impact they had on your employee.   If it turns out that the tears were primarily due to a personal struggle outside of work, acknowledge that pain and extend your best wishes.

Help them save face. Female or male, few people want to be seen blinking back tears at work. It can be humiliating. You can’t take back the incident that’s already occurred, but you can pledge not to be the cause of someone else’s tears ever again. If the incident was viewed by others, and your employee agrees to it, you can make a public apology and request that your employees let you know if you’re ever again keeping people on edge this way.

Take note if this employee is particularly sensitive by nature or going through a difficult time. Then, be specific about your objectives for this particular person and strive to catch her doing something right. That effort is always a key element in keeping people motivated, instead of hopeless, through challenging times.

Look at the big picture. You’ve talked over the situation with your employee, you’ve apologized if you contributed to that person’s distress, and addressed how you can change your own behavior. You’ve also considered the stressors that your employees may experience. If you realize that you need to listen more, create new means to express your faith in your employees, or change the organizational culture, start working on it. Demonstrate to your team that this is a workplace where no one needs to shed tears, ever.