Three Things I’ve Learned from My Garden

I have a lot of hobbies; gardening is the most serious. I was introduced to the wonders of plants as a child. Like all hobbies, my garden has grown along with my knowledge and income.

There are few things in life more satisfying than your own garden. The never-ending metaphor for life – a garden offers more than beauty – it offers insight. Here’s a few things I’ve learned from mine:

Anyone Can Change the World

When I was a kid, we lived in a very small apartment. The path from the alley to the back porch was filled with rocks and gravel. It was litter-free, and most renters would have left it alone, but not my Mom and Grandmother. We bought seeds and as soon as Spring would allow, we filled discarded egg cartons with dirt and germinated our crops in the sunny basement windows. Once hardened, my brothers and I dutifully transplanted our seedlings into their assigned places. Over the summer, the Marigolds grew, the Sunflowers blossomed, the Morning Glories climbed through the chain link. We learned to weed and mulch and water. It didn’t matter that I was five, and poor, and lived in a horrible place in a sketch area of town: We made the world a better place, and everyone around us knew it, too.

Gardening is the most egalitarian of hobbies, which is why I love it so. Gardening taught me not to accept my circumstance: I could always make things better for me and for others.  Rich or poor, young or old, gifted or dull: Anyone can grow a beautiful sunflower.

Life is Filled With Death and Failure

Over my lifetime, I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on all kinds of (expensive) plants that — despite my best efforts — have died.  Even more annoying are those that linger and never thrive. Despite 50 years of gardening and my amazing green thumb, I am not immune from disappointment and failure. Not everyone can grow everything well.

Talking about death and failure is something we just don’t do anymore, and I wish we would. Whether painful or shameful, it’s these dark moments that make us change our course.  Only from death and failure do we learn and grow.

Don’t envy beautiful gardens.  Gardens aren’t born, they evolve. Failure is part of the evolution.  The garden has taught me to accept it, learn from it, even plan for it, but most importantly, to let it go. Failure forces you to look for causes, patterns, alternatives.  If it weren’t for those dead petunias, I would have never found succulents.  Today, I have a collection that horticulturalists envy.

Laziness is Sweet; but it’s Consequences are Cruel

Voltaire (also a fan of the garden), is correct in his observation.  Mother nature is an impatient mistress, and she’s not going to wait around for you to “feel” motivated.

Consistent effort is required to achieve anything in life of real value: Good relationships, successful careers, continued health.  They all require consistent effort.

My garden has taught me that procrastinating unpleasant tasks can make them more daunting than they really are. By using the one-hour rule, which is do <whatever work you’re avoiding> for just one hour, I’ve found I almost always able to accomplish more than I originally thought.

>>>>>>

Like affection, effort is never wasted. An hour to till even the smallest garden can lift and inspire others. And, isn’t that what life is all about?

 

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The Winter of our Discontent

To most of the world, success is never bad. When Hitler moved unchecked and triumphant, many honorable men sought and found virtues in him. And Mussolini made the trains run on time, and Vichy collaborated for the good of France, and whatever else Stalin was, he was strong.

Strength and success – they are above morality, above criticism. It seems then, that it is not what you do, but how you do it and what you call it.

Is there a check in men, deep in them, that stops or punishes? There doesn’t seem to be. The only punishment is for failure.

In effect no crime is committed unless a criminal is caught ~~ some men get hurt, some even destroyed, but this in no way deters the movement.

John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent, 1961

How to Spot a Trump Bot

UPDATE 1/11/21: Since the initial publication of this article, Facebook and Twitter have suspended Donald Trump’s account(s), and also implemented a system-wide purge of bot accounts (something done regularly anyway). The deletion of literally thousands of these bot (fake) accounts has resulted a huge net loss of followers for many GOP representatives’ accounts.

Donald Trump’s profile and incendiary rhetoric have been pulled from FB and Twitter. But, his Bots are out in force.

Bot farms are notoriously housed in Russia, India, China but not exclusively. Alt-Right organizations, like the Epoch Times (underwritten by TrumpPac), use bots to promote Trump’s insurrectionist agenda.

What is a Bot? Bots are programs that run automated tasks. However, that does not mean that Bots operate completely autonomously. They do not.

Bots require human interaction, and they all require fake profiles.

We have come to recognize the work of bots in marketing posts, such as Amazon product reviews, vacation rental recommendations, Glassdoor company ratings, and other consumer forums. But Trump and his Russian bots have created a propaganda machine whose wack-a-mole structure will be difficult to contain. As soon as you get rid of one, another will pop up.

Bots make it appear that Trump is more popular, and make it appear his views are more widely-shared and widely- supported than they truly are.

How It Works

  • Bot farms (which can be only a few people) set-up hundreds of individual fake profiles* (using stolen photos, fake names).
    • Fake profiles send out hundreds of friend requests. Men get requests from hot chicks; women from Central Casting hunks.
    • If you accept the request, the bot will request connections with your friends.
  • Bots continue to build their “friends” to 100 or so connections – just enough to stay under the radar – using them as a first-line propaganda distribution system.

Then, the AI Part

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) uses key words and images to identify News feeds and other postings critical of the “client.”
  • Upon publication of any article containing these key words, Bots add a generic pro-client comment to the thread. (ex: Donald J. Trump is true Christian and the greatest President!!).
  • Other Bots immediately swarm to “like” the comment, thereby promoting it to the top of the thread.
  • FB, Twitter postings are programmed to display the most popular comment at the top of the thread.
  • Real people see the article, and the (only displayed) comment in their feed. They respond, thereby adding to the comment’s popularity.
  • The site’s algorithm ensures the comment remains at the top of the thread because of its popularity.
  • Divisiveness and insurrection ensue.

How to Spot a Trump Bot

The Out-of-Context Comment

If a News article implies criticism of Trump, his agenda, or his supporters:

  • Top comment includes terms like “liberal media” or “radical socialists.” Other clues: Comment includes terms that pander to his base, “I pray for our Christian President,” “Trump is a champion of the Unborn!” or apocalyptic statements that hit all the buzz words: “Alt-Right Antifa is turning this country into socialist Venezuala (sic).”
  • Comment does not reflect any information contained in the article.
  • Comment has HUNDREDs of likes (despite the article being published only minutes ago).
  • Comment’s replies refute the bot’s statement; however, the bot never, ever responds to any reply.

The *Fake Profile

How can you tell?

  • Trump bots choose pictures of (generally) young men or Getty Image, Central Casting hunks. They are often military. If not, they drift toward middle-aged Cracker-types with questionable facial hair, often shown with groups hunting or carrying firearms or drinking Bud. Women are mostly blonde and “midwestern” types. Never black, brown, or in anyway an ethic or religious minority.
  • Contains little to no “About” information. Person is often “self-employed” or single. No work, group, or location information. No children.
  • Joined FB within the last four years. Many joined in 2020.
  • Photos appear blurry (because they’re often stolen via a screen shot). Group photos contain no captions or locations.
  • Feed contains primarily “shares” of links to conspiracy sites, posts focus on negative memes attacking “liberal” media, Democrats, and (of course) Hillary.

What You Can Do About It

  • Tag the bot, and then add a comment in the thread stating that bot profile is fake.
  • Report the profile as fake (use the More ellipse (…) that displays on the profile page).
  • Don’t feed trolls. When you do, it only elevates their comments. Best to Like comments you agree with, and add your additional agreement. In that way, the popularity of the post to its readers is elevated.
  • Don’t accept random friend requests – in any social media – unless you feel confident the person is NOT a fake profile.
  • Block any profile you suspect of being fake to ensure that it cannot use your friends or messaging.

The Good News

Bots only work when they’re getting paid, or there’s something in it for them. Trump is out of money, out of power, out of friends who will lend him money. Now that the money is going away, so too will Trump’s on-line “supporter” bots.

+++

Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

How to REALLY Keep your Exercise Resolution

I’m a regular power-walker. Out-the-door before 7, back before 8. I do about two and a half miles each day – half flat, half hills. More on weekends if it’s cloudy. I allow myself one day a week to skip my AM walk. Usually Friday; never Monday. I started in my 40’s, and have kept it up for more than a decade.

Here’s what I’ve learned about exercise…

It MUST be a Morning Routine

Exercise is not about discipline, not about strength, not about willpower. Exercise is about routine. Change yours to include 30 minutes of walking in the morning. The routine will change your life.

“I’m NOT a morning person…” (Already with the excuses?) No one is asking you to host a TV talk show. You don’t need to be “on.” You need to get your ass out of bed.

Mornings are the only time you truly have control over your day. Once your day starts, you will be overcome by events. You’ll go after work? Liar. You can do more exercise after work should you choose (and eventually you will, like I did with my yoga practice), but as a minimum, you must commit to a routine of regular AM walks.

No One is “Motivated”

I hear this all the time, and it irritates the hell out of me. “I’m just not motivated to exercise….” What is it about Americans that we feel entitled to be “motivated” before we do anything? I’m completely unmotivated to clean the bathroom, empty the dishwasher, paint the house trim, or pick up dog poop. I also have zero motivation to be at work on time, but I do it anyway.

Anyone who sticks with an exercise routine has accepted that they will never feel motivated to do it. Ten plus years, I still don’t feel any more motivation than I did day one. Is it easier? Yes. Do I enjoy it? No. I tolerate it. There’s no joy; it’s not fun. As a grown-up, you need to accept that not everything you do in life is enjoyable. I accept that exercise is an unpleasant chore, and it’s a chore that only I can do. If I could hire someone to do it for me, I would.

Think of your AM power walks like the bus. No one is motivated to take the bus. But, if the bus is the only way to get to work, and your choices are 1) take the bus or 2) live under a bridge, you’ll change your schedule, and find a way to take the bus.

Forget an Exercise “Buddy”

Another piece of worthless advice given annually by skinny bitches on talk TV. You want a buddy? Get a dog. You and your chubby friends are NOT good motivators for each other (see above). What is more likely to happen is that you will talk each other out of going, or worse, talk each other into indulging your mutual bad habits (“Sandy was late, and I just wasn’t motived, so we went to Starbucks ….”)

It’s difficult enough to keep your own routine. If you attempt to intertwine it daily with another adult, you will fail. Focus on your time, your schedule, your needs. If you truly want a buddy, hire a trainer. They’re always happy to take your money, whether you show up or not.

Don’t Waste Time Looking Good

Every January, I see a big increase in the number of people on the trails, in the gym, and at the studio. When I attempt to predict who will still be there in March, my first cut are the ones who are dressed well.

People with real exercise routines aren’t interested in looking good (see: lack of motivation); they’ve expended all their energy just getting there. They’re dressed in shitty sweats, ripped tee shirts. Myself included. I roll out of bed, use the bathroom, and immediately put on the shorts, tee shirt, socks, and the hoodie I laid out the night before. Sneakers, ponytail, hook up the dog, and out the door. No makeup. No teeth brushing. No coffee. No cell phone. No internal bargaining. No distractions. No excuses.

The folks you see out at 6 am look just as shitty as you do, and they’re not interested in chatting. They’re tired, grumpy, and want to get it done so they can start their day.

Don’t Bring Anything with You

Poop bags are attached to the leash. No cell phone, no keys. Water? Plu-eeze! You’re not going to dehydrate in 30-60 minutes. Coffee, nope. Have it when you get back.

Why take nothing? Because it’s distracting. If I take my phone, I’m checking every single beep. If I turn off the beeps, I’m checking anyway. If something comes in, I’m tempted to respond. Keys? Don’t need ’em. Why take the chance of losing them? Water, coffee? I don’t want to carry anything.

Anything you take with you is a distraction. The longer you’re distracted, the longer it takes. Don’t dawdle. Get it done.

++++

Now the good news: Once your routine is established (which takes about two weeks, couple months to seal it in), exercise will become easier. Easier is not enjoyable, however, easier is just a less painful. Other good news: As your body becomes more fit, it calls you toward foods that are less detrimental to your health. It will also call you toward longer walks, and bigger hills. This is about a lifestyle, not a goal. Honor your body, not your ego.

Most importantly, be mindful of negative self-talk. Replace “I’m so fat, and out of shape,” with “I’m out here doing it, not just talking about it.” Replace “I’ll never be able to climb that hill,” with “I’ll take the hill little-by-little, and stop whenever I want to catch my breath. It’s not a competition.” And, finally, replace “I can’t wait until I’m thin, and I don’t have to do this anymore,” with “I’m committed to a lifetime of health, and I start every day renewing that commitment.”

Happy Wandering!

Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

11 Things that Are Better Because of Covid

We are changed by every failure, set-back, disaster, or crisis we encounter. Covid is the most profound of events because it has affected each of us personally, and our communities and nations globally.  No one has escaped. No one is immune.

As vaccines are distributed and the smoke begins to clear, we need to ask, “What is the gift?”  Here’s 11 of ‘em…

~ 1 ~ Our Neighbors

I’ve met more of my neighbors in the past eight months than I have in the past eight years. People are home. They have time to chat.  The want to chat…! Pre-Covid, I would be socializing with my co-workers at after-work happy hours, but that’s not going to happen when you’re on Zoom. 

There’s little doubt we will see our social lives shift from work-centric to community centric. Maybe that’s why we’re all moving someplace else….

~ 2 ~ Our Technical Prowess

We’re using our laptops, pads, mobile and Bluetooth devices more effectively, and for things we never did before.  This is important because technology doesn’t improve without user feedback.

User feedback allows technologists to improve software quickly and more meaningfully.  Be prepared for a big leap forward in our quality of connectedness.

The great thing about technology is that the more people use it, the better it gets.

~ 3 ~ Our Cooking

Tearing up your own lettuce at .89 cents a bunch isn’t as burdensome as once thought. Kids are cooking real meals, planning menus, using fractions, and everyone is wondering why we weren’t doing this before.

Don’t get me wrong: I love eating in a restaurant and having people bring me stuff. But, I also realize that eating out used a lot of my disposable income that probably could have been spent on investment, not, literally, consumption.

~ 4 ~ Our Savings

Not eating out, not commuting, no coffee snacks, dry cleaning, happy hour(s), multiple vehicles, soccer fees, miscellaneous mall trips….Perhaps Wall Street is doing so well because there’s not much else to buy?

For those who have escaped lay-offs and can work virtually, the cost of going back and forth to an office is abundantly clear. And, after a year of gitn’ er done from home, it’s doubtful anyone is going to cough up a big chunk of his/her net income just to commute into an office again every day.

~ 5 ~ Our Employers

Employers now realize they actually need their employees! They’ve become obnoxiously pro-family – almost to the point of being anti-single — and many (sheepishly) admit that their 1950’s insistence that everyone be on-site every day was more about tradition (and control), not so much about collaboration and teamwork.

The more people work virtually, the better they will get at it. 

Virtual work has its advantages (and challenges), and not everyone is going to survive (or thrive), in a cyber office. But, make no mistake, those without the self-discipline to meet deadlines and the responsibilities of a virtual team and managers who cannot manage virtual teams or projects will soon find themselves on the shelf (next to the thermal Fax machine).

~ 6 ~ Our Weight

At the beginning of this pandemic, I saw a big increase in people on the hiking trails and local jogging routes.  Many were clearly new to exercise.  A few months in, some potatoes have returned to their couches, but not all. 

Exercise isn’t about motivation; it’s about habits. And bravo to those who have changed theirs to reflect a commitment to their health.

~ 7 ~ Our Compassion

Racial inequities, disconsolate healthcare workers, grieving families, food lines that stretch for miles.  Pain has a unique way of stripping away all the bullshit and exposing the true essence of humanity.

Covid has been an accelerant of social change.  With sickness and death all around, we’ve been forced to see parts of ourselves and our lives, and others, in a way we never did before.  We’re all better for it.

~ 8 ~ Our Supply Chain

While military logistics plays a huge role in vaccination efforts, companies like Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, CVS – millions of restaurants, processors, growers and the myriad of private delivery services pivoted in a way that could never have been accomplished by a government bureaucracy.

Urban warehousing, drones, and delivery-o’-everything will improve to provide for our just-in-time toilet paper needs.

~ 9 ~ The News

At first, everyone was grappling with how to produce a show using just video.  But, they figured it out, and it has a lot of advantages.

Because there’s no need for the guest to physically be there, we’re able to hear voices, insights, and opinions that probably would not have made it to the “lame” stream media. Audio and video quality that would have been unacceptable 12 months ago isn’t even questioned now.

More of us are actively seeking unfiltered information. We want to hear exactly what was said, not some politically spun version of alternative facts.  That doesn’t mean anyone will change her/his mind, but it’s good to know that real information is out there, and lots of bona fide journalists are, too.

~ 10 ~ Our Homes

If you drive for a living, and you would need a different vehicle than you would for occasion use.  The same is true for the home office.  A small bedroom was fine for the random WFH day or to check email on Sunday.  Eight-to-nine-hours-five-day-a-week-and-weekends.  Now, you’re under house arrest. 

The connected home, IoT, learning centers and the need for multiple home offices will force a change in residential architecture. The need for both functional and attractive family “business” centers has just begun.

~ 11 ~ Our Government Services

Yeah, I said it.  Bravado and bluster are part of America’s global bad rep’ (We’re #1!), But, when people are sick, dying, afraid, and the economy is in shambles, you begin to recognize that integrity, hard work, and statesmanship is the social compact we really entered into.  We pay taxes for leadership, macro- planning, infrastructure, and services that cannot be provided by the private sector. I’m happy that Amazon can deliver my socks.  I think I still want the CDC or NIH to be in the public health business. 

Finally, I think this pandemic has ended the, “Teachers don’t work very hard,” fantasy.

This has been a difficult year for everyone – no one has escaped loneliness, sadness, and at times, the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.  Perhaps a moment to reflect on the good that has come from this can help ease these pains. We will never return to where we were, but now that we can see where we’re going, it looks to be pretty okay….

Happy Holidays!

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Should I Take a Contract Job?

Dear Plume,

I was let go at the start of the Covid shutdown from a job I had for the past eight years. Although they started to recall some of their employees, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of them.

I’ve been looking at the job boards. There are some positions that seem to be a good fit for me, but the majority of them are only for six months, and most of them are contracts.

I’ve never worked as a contractor before. Should I apply for (and take) a contract job? There’s a lot of them out there, but I feel it’s a step down from being an employee.

I can’t be unemployed much longer, but I dread the idea that I’d have to look for another job in six months. What should I do?

– Unsure

***

Dear Unsure,

I recommend contract work to anyone who has been an employee for a while. It’s a great way to level-up your career!

Downsizing, reorgs, and virtual teams result in a lot of “combined” job descriptions – meaning that the responsibilities listed in the JD were likely accomplished by two or more people. Now, they must be done by one. This is when people are likely to consider someone who could do the job, not just someone who has…

If you’ve been an individual contributor, and think it’s time for you to move into management, or perhaps you want to slide laterally into a space that has more long-term growth, a contract job is the perfect way to do it.

Contract work has a fixed duration because very often contract work is related to a one-time (CapEx) project; there’s a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you hire a carpenter to build a backyard fence. You agree upon a price and anticipated duration, and the carpenter works and bills you according to the terms of your agreement. When the fence is done, the carpenter leaves. Most people don’t need two backyard fences. If you love the fence, and think, “Hey, I need a front fence,” or a neighbor wants a fence, that’s nice. But, for the most part, after the fence is built, the job is done, and the carpenter leaves.

Knowing there is beginning-middle-end allows you to prepare. Employees often have little or no notice of when their job will end.

Depending on the nature of the work, your initial contract can turn into more work or different work (very common). In some cases, the client may wish to hire you (less common, but possible.) If you decide you want to continue working for the client (and you may not), and the client has the money to keep you (often, they do not), great! Mazeltov! If it doesn’t come to pass, no harm-no foul. You made some money, some friends, and gained some new skills.

There are some types of work that must be performed by an employee; however, contract work is NOT a “step-down” from being an employee! In many cases, contract work is more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, And, if you sell expertise, long-term, you may prefer to work as a contractor.

The only job security is to be employable.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress the importance of not confusing temporary, contract work with being an employee. Although you might feel like your an employee, you are not. When you are a contractor, you don’t have a boss. You have a client, an agent, and a lot of teammates — all of whom need to be managed (by you!.)

If you have a specific expertise, and think you might want to consult, I’d recommend working a few contract gigs to see if you can handle managing a client.

Not everyone wants to work full-time for an employer. If you have a special talent, expertise or own special tools, contracting could be the best way for you to make the most money per hour. If you’re young in your career, it can also be a low-risk way to acquire big-buck skills on someone else’s dime. Contractor or employee? There is no right or wrong choice. Only you can determine what is in the best interest of you and your career.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

You Just Lost Your Job !

So, you just lost your job (seems to be a bit of that going around). If you’re new to unemployment, being without a job is a huge disruption to a well-established routine. And, if you’ve been a bit of work-a-holic, you could easily find yourself struggling to structure your time and set goals. Here’s a few things to do:

Stop Freaking Out

So, you’ve been working at the same place for 10 years, and thought you were like “family.” You can’t believe they let you go when <your nemesis> is still there doing the same lousy work. Losing that job was like losing a piece of yourself – like a death.

Except it’s not a death, it’s a job. You’ll get another one. Enough with the drama!

Don’t wallow in self-pity about how you’ve been wronged. Don’t think the people who were not let go are somehow better than you are. If you survived previous RIFs and downturns and assumed that your survival was because you were superior to those who were let go, I can assure you that your self-assessed superiority is overrated. People are let go (or kept) for all kinds of reasons. Sadly, most have little or nothing to do with their actual skills or competence.

If you’ve been with the same company for some time (10 years or more), and thought you would NEVER lose your job, I’m talking to you: You’re waay overdue for a bit of unemployment. You’re no better, no worse than anyone else. I also want you to think about the times you may have looked down on someone who was unemployed. Set aside your mistaken and misguided notions of people’s intelligence, competency, or worthiness and practice some self-love and self-enlightenment.

It’s okay to spend time grieving, but losing a job is not a death. People get jobs and lose jobs all the time. Why you? Why NOT you? You may have thought you were better – you’re not – you’re just equal.

Put Together a List and Structure Your Time

I cannot stress the importance of keeping a routine. I recommend structuring your tasks into 1-3 hour blocks for morning, afternoon, and evening with higher-energy tasks at the beginning of the day. In this way, you make progress on a variety of things daily. For example, the AM, when it’s cool and I have more energy, I’ll focus on physical tasks (A run with the dog, yard work, home repairs). The afternoon, computer work, job search, phone calls, writing. Evening: No-brainer food prep, house cleaning, shopping.

Looking for a job is going to take time, but it’s not going to take ALL your time, and when you do return to work, you’re going to be focused on your new gig. Don’t waste this opportunity. Knocking out chores, taking on-line classes, actually getting started on that (blog, certification, novel), losing some weight, will make you feel happier, more confident, and more in control of your life.

Stop Worrying

Eckhart Tolle says that worry is “too much future, not enough now,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Knowing that you are doing everything you can (sorry, worry isn’t action), will lessen the amount of worry and increase your level of confidence. People who are resilient focus on what they can do, and they do it. They don’t worry about things they cannot control.

If you’re worried about finding a job, ask yourself if you are DOing everything you can. If you can confidently say, “Yes, I’m doing everything I can,” then stop worrying about finding a job because you will.

Too often I see people substitute worry for action. They’re worried about losing their job, but not willing to look for another one. They’re worried about their relationship, but not willing to talk about it, or leave it. They’re worried about their finances, but not willing to give up cable or swap out of their $400 a month car payment. But, they’re worried….

No one has every solved their financial problems with worry.

Life is filled with limitless possibilities. As we emerge from this Covid crisis, we see a very different world than the one we left behind. You have changed your health and spending habits. Have you change your thinking or are you confusing worry for action? Are you seeing your unemployment as the end of your career, or as an opportunity to move into something different, more meaningful, less stressful, something that allows you to be all of who you are? Work toward the reward; stop worrying about risks.

Take a Contract Gig

I don’t run into too many people these days who have NOT worked as a contractor – especially in tech or healthcare – two of this country’s major industries. Every once in a while, however, I will meet someone who has only worked as a W2 employee (or only one employer), and of course there are still those who feel that working as a contractor is “beneath” them or that contractors as “less than” employees. If I’m talking about you: Time to move your mindset into this century…

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I devote a entire chapter to Misconceptions About Contract Work. One of those misconceptions is that contractors have no job security. If you’re reading this, and you’re unemployed, I think you see that no one has job security. If you have been with the same employer for a long time, you also may see that your years there aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to finding a new job. The truth is that being employ-able is much more important than being employed. It really is the only job security anyone can have.

You never know how long you’ll be employed, but you always know if you’re employ-able.

Working as a contractor is different than being an employee. You have a client, not a boss. The dynamic is different. And there is very likely a beginning-middle-end to your contract. Contract work can be much more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, and if you’ve been looking to level up in your career, contract work is an ideal way to get the experience you need.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

Final Thoughts

Anytime you lose your job, even if it’s a job you didn’t particularly like, it’s upsetting. You feel rejected. You miss your former colleagues. If you’ve been an employee for a long time, you’ll feel overwhelmed by just the idea of interviewing, and petrified at the thought of starting all over someplace new. All these emotions are very normal, and I can assure you that they are temporary.

You will find another job, and you will get past this, and it will happen sooner than you think, so make the most of your time now that you have some.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. 

How Would YOU Caption This?

This cartoon and it’s original caption, “Describe what you can bring to this company,” has gone viral on Twitter and FB. I’ve collected a few hilarious – and a few very pointed – responses off the various feeds, and I would like to hear….

How would you caption this?

~Well, you are the most qualified, but I’m not sure I want to get a beer with you.

~I don’t disagree with your recommendations, but you need to tone down your presentation. You don’t want to sound bitter.

~We are ready to begin the inquiry into the sexual harassment complaint you filed.

~If you work really, really hard and prove yourself, we might consider hiring you full time.

~I’m not sure that the team will respond to your management style.

~The most important thing is we hire someone who reflects our culture and values.

~I’ll have the turkey wrap, and make sure there’s enough cookies and water for the afternoon.

“~~my life debating Republicans in committee each week.” – AOC

~I’m not sure you have the leadership skills for this job.

~We’re looking for a team player. Are you a team player?

~If all you bring is your gender and skin color, then you aren’t worth very much.”

No More Traffic Stops: Police Reform that Could Change Everything

Let’s start with a universal truth: Every single one of us, young, old, rich, poor, white, non-white, city, suburb, bedroom or rural – every single one of us has had an experience with an asshole cop. Most of use have had several. And, that experience almost always began with a bullshit traffic stop.

We know what a bullshit traffic stop is: Tinted windows, no front plate, “illegal” lane change, failure to signal, speeding with no one around, not coming to a “full” stop (aka: the California Roll), jaywalking. Fix-it tickets: Expired registration, broken headlight. These are known as revenue-raisers. You’re more likely to get one toward the end of the month, or the end of a shift, when cops need to fulfill their quota…oh, I mean their “suggested minimum” for traffic tickets.

We know how this works: He pulls you over. (He’s always alone, and so are you). He won’t tell you why you were pulled over. He demands your license, registration, and then walks around the car looking for stuff that could or might be fine-worthy. If nothing is fine-worthy, he asks if you’ve been drinking or using drugs. When you are offended and alarmed, he pokes you again saying you seem “agitated” are you sure you’re not under the influence? (He still hasn’t told you why you were pulled over.) Here it comes now: Step out of the vehicle….do you mind if I search the car? This will make it easier for you…

Any of this sounding familiar?

The multitude of videos showing police harassing, threatening, and ultimately shooting black men and women too often begins with one thing: They were pulled over by a lone, white male cop for some bullshit traffic stop.

If we truly want to stop police violence, we need to do the following:

Remove Revenue Raising and “Suggested Minimums”

States and other municipalities use traffic fines as revenue for their general fund. Why? Unlike raising taxes, it doesn’t require a public vote or legislative debate. Legislatures can silently increase fines, and increase the suggested minimum number of tickets written. This way of funding our government must end.

Making matters worse, for many smaller, cash-strapped communities, these fines are used to fund the budgets of the police departments who are writing these tickets!! This is why we have money for radar guns, but no funds to process rape kits. Moreover, the whole idea of using civil penalties as a primary revenue source for municipality is problematic. It’s clear that what was intended to be a financial disincentive has now become a mechanism for extortion and abuse.

Governments could easily end traffic tickets as a form of revenue raising.

The mission of cops is to protect and serve. They are also supposed to investigate crime. Setting up speed traps and writing traffic tickets fulfills neither of these goals. Moreover, most cops aren’t all too keen on writing tickets anyway – that’s not why they became a cop. What they do like is that bullshit traffic stops give them a multitude of subjective, yet “legitimate” reasons to detain anyone they want.

Speed Limits and Stop Signs Should be Suggested

This is a long held Libertarian battle cry whose time has finally come. I realize that many find this akin to anarchy. However, I would remind you that most people love their cars (and the people in them), and understand that speed limits and stop signs, and other traffic directions are there for the common good and our safety. I think we also know that people abide – or don’t abide– whether there’s a cop present or not.

While it’s easy to get lost in the legislative details of this one, let’s just say this: We, as a citizenry, don’t care too much about speeding and traffic violations. If we did, we wouldn’t be depending on individuals in cars to randomly enforce those violations. With the prevalence of drones, cameras, GPS, tracking devices, and live-stream video, there’s absolutely zero reason for any human being to have to pull-over another human being to issue a hand-written ticket — a ticket that is based on one individual’s “eye-witness” judgement. Again, a structure designed for extortion and abuse.

Stop Asking People to “Step Out of the Car”

Another commonality of many of these cop killings is the cop insists the driver and passengers “Step out of the car.”

Every cop in America knows that an individual has the right to remain in the vehicle unless you are being arrested. (Which is why he’s insisting that you appear under the influence of drugs. See: Intro paragraph above for shake down details).

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be.

Time and time again, we see black men and women politely refusing to leave the vehicle – that is their right! The refusal infuriates the cop/bully, an argument ensues, and the cop shoots you because he “felt” you were being “threatening” to him.

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be. You are being threatened and bullied by an angry man with weapons. You are almost always alone. You’re often being kicked, shoved, and yelled at, black men are almost immediately hand cuffed – and for what? An “illegal” lane change? Everything about human nature kicks in now – fight or flight – in both cases, you’re going to get shot.

It’s easier to shoot you when you’re outside the car. Regardless, in the case of Philando Castile he was shot inside his vehicle in front of his girlfriend and child.

Any cop who tells you to get out of your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Stop asking to “Search the Vehicle”

This is another no-brainer. Under no circumstances should a traffic stop and vehicle search be part of the same interaction. You need a warrant and that warrant requires a judge to approve that you have probable cause. A traffic stop is not probable cause. Cops need to stop threatening people to “give their permission.”

Always do what the cop says, after all, you’ve got nothing to hide, right? If you have a problem with his actions, you can “hash it out” in court was the sage advice offered by a former NYC cop. This is white people fairly tale bullshit …

Cops plant drugs, cops plant weapons. Cops should not be sniffing around your car without a warrant. It’s proven bad for your health.

Any cop who is insisting that you permit him to search your vehicle and/or threatens to arrest you or tow your vehicle because you refused to let him search your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Who are you? Why did you stop me?

This is another no-brainer change in protocol. The first thing a cop should do is hand the driver a card with his ID and contact info, and then tell the driver exactly why he has detained him. I should not have to provide my “papers.” This isn’t Nazi Germany. I have the right of free movement. If you’ve stopped me, you must tell me why, and you must tell me immediately.

Any cop who is insisting that you provide him identification before he tells you why you are being detained, or any cop who refuses to provide you the reason why you a being being detained (after you’ve asked, repeatedly) should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Protect and Serve or Hassle and Fine?

Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, has it right: We’re asking police to do too much. They are forced to deal with homelessness, mental illness, drug problems, fucked-up relationships. These are serious social issues that demand our attention, but they are not criminal behavior. Broken tail lights, expired registration, tinted windows? These are civil statues, not criminal behavior. Why are the police involved at all?

We need to separate the enforcement of civil penalties from the prevention and investigation of criminal behavior

Now is the time. We MUST tightly define and limit the scope of the police. We can do this by removing the revenue incentive that is insidiously intertwined with traffic “law” enforcement. A rolling stop is not a criminal act. And we also must fire those “Bad Apples” who don’t play by the rules. Laws are for everyone, including the cops.

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Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Leadership 101: The Loose Matrix

Those of us who work in project management or consulting are intimately familiar with the loose matrix. Leading a loose matrix effort requires the unwavering support of project sponsors and a dedicated team. Even in the best environments, loose matrix projects compete with the priorities of functional managers. Ultimately, the resource will chose to align his/her work to the desires of their real “boss.” This is constant source of project conflict and often the root-cause of project failure.

If you’re not 100 percent sure what loose matrix is, here’s a clue:

You’re responsible for accomplishing something — some project, task, or managing some program. You’re not anyone’s boss (you might be a contractor), no one reports to you, you can’t fire or hire or replace anyone or change any of the workload or priorities.

You’re supposed to have people do things for you to support this project or program, but no one really does, and when you ask for assistance, no one really cares. What’s worse: the quality of any work that is done is so poor that you have to (1) Do it yourself, or (2) Ask them to redo it, in which case you catch a rash of shit about how the work is just fine, they don’t have time for your ridiculous nit-picking followed by an outright refusal or a stall in rework, so you probably should have done it yourself, which is what everyone is hoping you’ll do anyway.

You’ve spent a lot of late nights and a couple weekends doing stuff that should have been done by others. You aren’t paid overtime but work for free because you’re afraid of failing, getting yelled at, getting fired, or letting down a whole bunch of people who are depending on you. So, that’s why you’re in your cubical stifling tears of rage while everyone else left early for Miller time.

Does this sound like your life? And on top of all of “help” you don’t receive, and all the work you need to re-do, and all the “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” back-talk you get, none of this makes any difference to your boss (who doesn’t know what loose matrix is, either).

He just doesn’t get what your problem is. You clearly have no leadership or management skills, and you can’t seem to garner the respect needed from the team to get anything done. He’s been working with these people for years, and hasn’t had any issues. When he says jump, they jump! The problem is clearly: YOU. Your style, your approach, YOU.

Au contraire: Charisma and chocolate chip cookies only go so far. The carrot doesn’t make up for the stick, and in a loose matrix you have neither.

The most frustrating thing about loose matrix is that oftentimes leadership doesn’t recognize that the problem is the matrix structure, not the people. This is where you can help your client/manager understand exactly what you need to be successful. If you find yourself in a loose matrix that isn’t working, muster some courage. Here’s what to say:

“I cannot accomplish <thesegoals> without the time of <name(s)>. I need to have <#ofhours/days> from <names> every week dedicated to me and this project. If <person> cannot accomplish the work within the timeframe needed, I must have <budget/recourse> to replace the resource on my project.”

This is where everyone starts to eye roll, grunt and groan about how they agree, but can’t we do this more “informally” and that this “structure,” is too much, and let’s not, like, harshen the mellow with things like “deadlines” and “objectives.” In other words: Why can’t you just be less high-maintenance, get off my back, and continue to do the work for us, like the girls used to in college group work?

If people don’t report to you – in other words — you cannot get rid of him/her — do not accept responsibility for them or their work. Nagging and harassing people to do their jobs are what a boss does. And, you’re not the boss. If you can’t hold your ground in this kind of situation, you really shouldn’t be managing anyone or anything anyway, so don’t be afraid to put your job on the line. Here’s what to say:

“I’ve documented for you, my <client>, what I need to accomplish <thistask>. Of course, it’s your prerogative to find another resource to do this, but if you want ME to do it for you, this is what I need.”

If you’re in a loose matrix and you don’t have the authority to make decisions, get rid of people, and you don’t have the unwavering support of management, start looking for an exit strategy sooner rather than later. Here’s why:

If you aren’t supported, and you don’t pro-actively leave, be assured your poor leadership will be associated with a failed or poorly executed project (trust me: no one will remember all the help you didn’t get). And, if by chance the project is not a failure, you’ve perpetuated the dysfunction by signing up for more free weekends, more resentful afternoons, and more shiftless work ethic from your “team.” Congratulations. Well done.

I’m not ashamed to say that I have spent more than my fair share of time crying in the ladies’ room and working late nights and weekends because of lazy, disrespectful co-workers and clients in these poorly conceived project structures. No more.

If you are stuck in the matrix, wiggle out and do it quickly. Spend less time being a big coward, covering for others, and working for free. Take your dedication and hard work to a job where you’ll get the money and recognition you deserve.

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Excerpted from The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, 2017 Available on Amazon Kindle or hard copy

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Why Consultants Fail

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress how the relationship between you and your client is not the same as you and an employer. The risk involved in consulting is considerable – especially if your task involves bringing change to a mature organization.

Here’s one of the main reasons consultants fail:

I Can’t Lose Weight for You

In many ways, being a consultant is like being a personal trainer. As your trainer, I do want you to lose weight and get fit; but if you don’t follow any of my advice nor do any of the work, there’s not a lot I can do for you. I’m still here, and I’m still billing you for my time, but instead of making progress, you’re crying about how you can’t fit into any of your clothes. Worse: Now you have an attitude! You’ve spent a whole bunch of money, aren’t losing weight, and that’s because I’m not a good trainer!

Consultants aren’t the only ones who deal with the unwillingness of others to change. Very often, companies hire employees to be their internal “experts.” These employees are tasked with implementing change, and take a consultative-approach to help the company modernize and upgrade.

Unfortunately companies, much like individuals, mis-over-estimate their desire and their capacity for change.

Depending on the maturity-level of the organization that miscalculation could be as harmless as a few missed deadlines because decisions were not made in a timely manner, or as significant as a corporate proxy battle to remove the key stakeholder(s) of a transformation project.

In almost all scenarios, it’s the “change agent” who takes the fall. The business group or executive leadership rarely accepts responsibility for the lack of progress. In their mind, they hired you to help them lose weight, and they’re still fat. YOU failed to find the right solution for them. End of story. You pull out your spreadsheet of missed gym dates, point to the candy wrappers in the trash can, and remind them that you are indeed there to help, but you cannot lose weight for them. This doesn’t exactly sink in if the client thinks that shopping for yoga pants is the same as going to yoga class.

No one wants to feel that they are bad at their job. No matter what your circumstance, employees and consultants alike grow weary of being blamed by the fat and lazy for the fact that they are fat and lazy. Ultimately, we either resign ourselves to the job of handing you tissues and peanut butter cups, or we move on to a more committed client.

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Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

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