The Irreverent Professor

Unvarnished realities about life, teaching, learning, and change in this wild, wild world

Archive for the category “Working”

To Endings…and New Beginnings

This weekend I attended a college graduation.  It wasn’t my graduation.  And it wasn’t my first graduation.  As a professor (and serial student myself), I have attended a few graduations.  What made this graduation different is that it may have been my last.

Look at all the shiny, happy almost-college-graduates

Look at all the shiny, happy almost-college-graduates!

I resigned from my professor job to move to the place where my heart is and has always been.  The place I call “home” even though I haven’t lived there in 20 years.  The place I grew up, learned to ride a bike, had my first crush, my first love, my first heartbreak.  My first prom, my first…well, nevermind.  You get the gist.

I resigned from my professor job because…well, I’m not really sure why.  My husband said, “Why don’t we move home?”  And I said ok.  We move about every three or four years at the suggestion of one or the other of us, so this wasn’t a shocking idea. But for the first time, we are moving for the quality of our lives and not for our careers.  And that makes it very different.  But home is the where of our happiness so it must be a good thing… right?

I have mixed feelings about this ending.  Although I’m excited to be moving “home,” I’m not sure what this new beginning means for me.  Sure, it means living at the beach (yay!).  And it means raising my son in the place where I grew up (yay yay!).  But what does it mean for ME, you know, professionally?  My husband teleworks, so he takes his job with him.  But I’ve been working at a brick and mortar university.  And now I’m…not.

Beach boy

Beach boy

People keep asking, “So what are you going to be doing?”  Some persistently believe I’m retiring at 47 despite my efforts to dissuade them of the notion (it probably doesn’t help that my flippant answer to the question is occasionally “be a kept woman.”  It’s a joke!).   Answering “I have no idea” seems to make people uncomfortable (including me) and if I’m not mistaken, I’ve gotten a few pitying looks…and a few envious ones.  🙂

My goal is to relax, get quiet, and spend a few months figuring out who I am.  I call it a self-imposed sabbatical, in keeping with the professorial mindset.  Marlo Thomas (whose awesome webcast I attended last week) would probably say It Ain’t Over and Jane Pauley (whose book Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life I am reading now) might call it a step toward reimagining my life.

Endings are difficult…but exciting, because they mean new beginnings.  New beginnings are scary…but exciting because anything is possible.

Carpe new beginnings.

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Finding Meaningful Work…or Finding Meaning in Your Work?

I had an “aha” moment recently.  I was pondering why I get “itchy” every three years or so and change jobs (and usually, cities).  (To see some of the jobs I’ve held, see the post “A Bibliography for Job Hoppers Like Me.”)  It could certainly be that I am a Scanner, as Barbara Sher describes.  I have a lot of interests and the thoughts that constantly run through my head go something like this:

Oh! I want to be a caterer!

Now I want to be a lawyer!

Ooooh, let’s move to Las Vegas!

Let’s live at the beach!

Etc. Etc.

But my “aha” moment was this: I tend to lose interest in a job when it no longer feels meaningful.  I don’t mean (necessarily) like a ministry or saving the planet (I guess I don’t aspire that high).  Just feeling like my day is spent on worthwhile things.  Not TPS reports. (Office Space?  If you haven’t seen the movie, do.  Then you’ll get this reference.  More importantly, you’ll laugh.  A lot.  Hopefully.)

By Hugh MacLeod www.gapingvoid.com (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

By Hugh MacLeod http://www.gapingvoid.com (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

One of the things I love about being a college professor is the opportunity to help young adults (or not-so-young-adults) figure out professional and personal things that will help them live a meaningful and fulfilling lives.  I’ve taught at several different universities in my life.  The experience has been pretty much the same – I start off excited about the students, the opportunities to help them learn about what I think is a fun and exciting career area, and teach them information and skills they need to know to succeed.  The first year is fabulous.  I’m in hog heaven.  The second year is good, but I feel a little frustrated that I’m not “getting through to them.”

By the end of third year, I am downright depressed and worn down because SO many students don’t seem to be interested in learning.  Some don’t bother to show up in class at all.  Some show up, but sneer at me all through class [I’ve actually kept two students after class to ask them if they know what their facial expressions look like (both said they didn’t)…and explain that this may be a detriment in an interview or work environment.  Then again, they may just really not like me.]

In other words, I can’t find the meaning in the work any more.  I’m not blaming the students.  They are who they are and they do what they do.  And it could certainly be that I’m a lousy professor, although I have some kind former students who are nice enough to say otherwise (thanks, y’all!).  Plenty of professors stay in the job for years and years.  Clearly, they find something I can’t.  Maybe they find meaning in research (I don’t – not the academic kind, anyway) or administration (I’m a worse bureaucrat than sales person…and I’m a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sales person).  I don’t know.

The first time in my working life that I realized the importance of having meaning in my work was when I worked as a front desk clerk at a hotel during college.  It was a revelation to realize the effect I could have on someone else’s mood, just by being friendly.  After a long day of work, a flight, and a life-threatening taxi ride from one of the D.C. area airports, they would arrive at the hotel, bedraggled and tired.  And find me, a 20 year old college student, at the front desk.  If I gave them the key to their room, fine.  They went up and their day was no different.  But if I smiled and joked with them or found something in their profile to start a conversation with (e.g., “You’re from Dallas? My brother lives in Dallas!”), it sometimes seemed to make their mood better.  And I helped!

That’s how public speaking is for me.  When I do a good job boiling what I think is important information into understandable chunks and use those to ignite a conversation with and between the participants, it feels meaningful.  It’s information that will help them in some way.  And I was able to help give it to them.  Meaning.

Still I wonder sometimes…is there really no meaning?  Or can I just not find it?  Or do I stop looking for it?

How about you?

Carpe meaning!

A Bibliography for Job Hoppers Like Me

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life.  A LOT.  And I recently gave notice at my current J-O-B (a year’s notice – academia is kind of weird).  I love my J-O-B, but I love flexibility, freedom, variety, and the beach more (we’re finally moving back “home” to the coastal town where I grew up and my husband went to high school.  I’ve been trying to do that for 20 years).

Among other things, I’ve been a:

  • Travel agent
  • Cruise ship purser
  • Hotel front desk clerk
  • Concierge
  • Meeting planner
  • Catering sales manager
  • Tourism bureau sales manager
  • Association executive
  • Lawyer
  • Professor
  • Professional speaker

    Kind of makes me dizzy to look at it visually.

    Kind of makes me dizzy to look at it visually.

And that’s just since I’ve been an “adult,” so the list doesn’t include various restaurant and retail jobs I had in high school and college.  Here is my career path visually (including various periods of unemployment…which were actually great fun, but that’s another story for another day).  I worked my way through school (all of it), so those aren’t “breaks,” btw.

My life span in a J-O-B (by that I mean conventional employment) is about 3 years.  I’m going on Year 4 in my current J-O-B.  I must be growing up.  HA.  Just kidding (SO just kidding).   A lot of people think I’m crazy.  Or flaky.  I have a great J-O-B at a great university in a lovely small city, I love my students, I get summers off, and it’s as close to entrepreneuring-with-a-regular-paycheck as you can get.  I’m not crazy (well I am, but not because of this).  I’m not flaky.  I just know I’m meant to live a different way–and a different where.  Even though I’ve done a lot of things, there many more things I still want to do.  After all, I’m only in my 40’s and have many more working years ahead of me.

So I recently made a big decision: never to have a J-O-B again.  I don’t mean that I get to retire early.  I’m not wealthy.  And for better or worse, I married for love, not money.  (Just kidding, honey, it’s better!)  I have just realized that a J-O-B is simply not my style.  Instead I’m going back to “multipreneuring,” which is like “entrepreneuring” but doing several things at once.  For example, my last multipreneur gig had me speaking, teaching, and lawyering…in various proportions that fluctuated by day, week, month, year.  And doing other cool stuff when it came along like consulting and writing.

This idea is not mine.  I’ve been collecting books for years that talk about living this life style…er, work style.  And it fits me better than any J-O-B ever will.  I’ve shared this with various people in presentations and I recognize the kindred spirits when I see their eyes light up like lightning bugs on a summer night.  So I thought I would share a short bibliography of books to read if this idea interests you.  Enjoy.

Carpe your J-O-B, job, or whatever works for you!

Tom Gorman. (1996) Multipreneuring. (This one may be out of print).

Richard J. Leider & David A. Shapiro. (2002). Repacking Your Bag: Lighten Your Load for the Rest of Your Life.

Barbara Sher. (2006) Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything You Love. 

Barbara J. Winter. (1993). Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love.

Cali Williams Yost. (2004). Work + Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You.

What Your Professors Haven’t Told You (But Should)

Part of the joy of irreverence–and being a professor–is being able to tell college students what they need to know.  And part of what they need to know is that professors don’t know it all. (collective gasp!)  In some case, what was true when they were the age of a college student is totally out date and no longer true.  For example, I was told as a college graduate (many moons ago) that I had to buy a navy blue or black suit with a white blouse or (if I wanted to be edgy) a gray striped suit…just like the IBM folks wore.  I bought pink corduroy (hey, it was fashionable in the 80’s…ok, probably not, but this isn’t a fashion blog).

Next week, I’m doing a presentation for college students at the Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress (MPI-WEC) called “What Your Professors Haven’t Told You, but Should.”  I’ve done a similar presentation for a couple of other student groups–IMEX America in Fall 2012 and most recently, at the Korea MICE Expo IMEX-MPI-MCI Future Leaders Forum in Seoul in June 2013.  Interestingly, there seemed to be absolutely no cultural barrier to the message in Korea and the students and recent college graduates in Seoul “got it” just as the (mostly) American students in Las Vegas did.  Interesting.

Some recent college graduates in Seoul who attended my presentation at the IMEX-MCI-MPI Future Leaders Forum

Some recent college graduates in Seoul who attended my presentation at the IMEX-MCI-MPI Future Leaders Forum

I love-love-love speaking to students–college students, high school students, recent college grads, graduate students.  Anyone open to a message about transition and change.  Part of the challenge with students is that (believe it or not), they are accustomed to pretty much believing what they hear.  Professor = authority figure.  Ergo, what the professor says must be true.  Not.  It’s not that I believe professors set out to tell students untruths.  I think professors really believe what they say.  I, on the other, think most of it is hooey.

Some of the bits of wisdom (read: opinion) I am going to share at this upcoming presentation include gems such as:

  • Grades don’t matter
  • You can’t learn it in a classroom
  • You already have a brand
  • Tattoos, nose rings, and pink hair are ok–even in an interview
  • Ban the black suit

There’s a lot more to each of these.  Hope you’ll be at MPI-WEC to hear about it.  And as a bonus, my buddy Professor Carol Krugman will be joining me to give her opinions (some of which differ from mine–shock).  If not, I’ll post the slides on SlideShare later.

Carpe irreverence.

P.S. You may be one of the lucky students who has an awesome professor who really does tell it like it is.  Or you may be the professor who does.  If so, kudos to you!  I know some of you are out there and I’m proud to call some of you “friends.”  🙂

Should You Go to Graduate School? Probably Not.

Every few months I get an e-mail from a former (or current) student and the uncomfortable exchange goes like this:

Student: Dear  Dr. Tyra, Would you be willing to write me a recommendation letter for graduate school?  I really enjoyed/learned so much in (insert other flattery here) your class and now I want to go back and get a master’s degree in (usually the same field).

Me:  Dear Student, I would certainly consider writing you a letter for graduate school if I didn’t think that by doing so, I would be doing you a terrible disservice.

Student: …..?

I know it’s not what they are expecting to hear and it’s probably not what they want to hear, but for 99.9% of them, it’s what they need to hear.  Too many people go to graduate school (a) to extend the period of time “in college” before they have to deal with the real world or (b) they can’t get a job and so they figure they may as well stay in school.  Bad, bad, bad reasons to go to graduate school.  Plus, in many instances, this strategy just results in being over-qualified and under-experienced for even an entry level job.  Not to mention further in debt.

UA graduate 2012

One of my recent rock star students who graduated and who is (wisely) working for a while post-graduation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for higher education.  I didn’t get three graduate degrees for nothing.  And I’ve used every one of them…although not always in the way I thought I would use them (but that’s for another post).  Grad school is not a summer camp for the Peter Pan set and it’s not something that should be undertaken lightly.

There are exceptions, certainly.  In some fields a master degree is the minimum education needed.  Those fields are not the ones I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the liberal arts, hospitality, marketing, whatever majors.  The fields where the combination of education and experience are necessary to even get in the game.

My advice for undergrads and recent grads is: stay out of school after graduation. Work a few years, figure out who you are and if what you think you want to do really is what you want to do.  Then find out what skills/knowledge you need to do it better…and then consider graduate school.  Ideally, not at your alma mater, where you may have some of the same professors you had for undergrad (and in some cases, the same classes plus an extra “graduate level” project – snort!).

It’s also important to choose the right graduate degree.  My husband got his MBA several years ago because…well, that’s what people with IT degrees who weren’t going to be IT guys did at the time.  He was told it would open all kinds of doors for him.  It didn’t.  So he went back and got a Master in Library Science (MLS).  And despite frequent ribbing from me about being married to a librarian, it’s been just what he needed.  But he didn’t know it until he knew it.

Carpe education (or not)!

8 Hours a Day, 9-5? I Think Not.

My office at 9am.  Lonely, empty, and waiting for me to wake up.

My office at 9am. Lonely, empty, and waiting for me to get in the right frame of mind. [Note @gapingvoid framed print in corner. Love him…er, it. Check him out on web or Twitter.]

I’m not a morning person.  Ok, that’s an understatement.  I hate mornings.  And I hate the word “hate.”  But it fits here.  I’ve spent 25+ years working for businesses for which the work day “start” time is 8am or 9am and leaving before 5pm is frowned upon.

But here’s the thing…I do crappy work (if any work at all) at 9am.  At 8am, I am a mere shell of a woman, a robot going through the motions.  I can’t form complete sentences.  In fact, when I was a meeting planner (many moons ago), I used to be told regularly on the phone in the mornings to speak up because people “couldn’t hear me.”  At the time, I thought that was due to a hardware problem, but I’ve since realized that a barely audible mumble is the best I can do in the morning.

Recently my husband, The Genius, said casually to me, “Why do you even sit down at your desk before lunch time?” Um, because I’m supposed to.  Hello?  Social norms and all that.  That’s when it hit me (because it was late afternoon)–I don’t care about social norms!  And the older I get, the less I care about them.  Why DO I sit down at my desk at 9am?  It’s been well-established (and is a frequent subject of discussion between my husband and I) that my “prime time” for work is 2:00-6:00pm.  It’s a subject of discussion because my husband’s “prime time” is 8am-12pm guy.  He’d start work at 7am (shudder) if we could get the Mole Boy ready for preschool in time.  But I’m not much help with that in the morning.

His comment stemmed from reading this blog post “The Origin of the 8 Hour Work Day and Why We Should Rethink it.”  Brilliant.

So I’m experimenting with not bothering to sit down at my desk before 10am…and 11am might be more like it.  And stopping work at 6pm or so.  2:00-6:00pm is my “prime time.”   The time I get into my groove, focus, and can be productive without effort. What’s yours?

And do you do work (or have a j-o-b) that accommodates your prime time?  If not, maybe you need to make a change (or become an entrepreneur).  Life’s too short to watch a clock.

Carpe Prime Time!

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