The Man in the White Suit – Ben Collins Stig Book

ben collins is the stig 2010 and a pretty hot guy if you ask me.I just finished The Man in the White Suit by Ben Collins and I found it to be an interesting look into the life of a man that landed in an amazing job on TopGear UK, and a telling look at the life of TopGear behind the scenes.

I was one of the many people saying “why?!” after I heard that The Stig published a book about his experiences on TopGear and revealed his identity and effectively lost his job. It seemed like career suicide to do this and lose this sweet gig racing some of the rarest cars on the planet and hooning some of the funniest moments in car television for an audience of 350 million people worldwide.

After reading the book I understand his motivations a bit more. In the press Ben Collins has said that he revealed this information in order to better move on in his career rather than be taunted by Jeremy and the other presenters about the difference in pay and benefits. And, I agree that taunting or lording things over the heads of your employees will produce resentment that can’t be undone and eventually things always end badly.

Reading this book has surprised me though, about the man who was The Stig and about how TopGear UK is actually run on a daily basis.

I think the first thing people realized after hearing that The Stig had written the book (after they were initially upset to lose the stig on the show) was that they had never heard of Ben Collins and most of the speculation up until that point was about F1 drivers in this role.

The truth seems that while Ben Collins was talented and up and coming in the racing circuit ranks of England he did not make it to F1 or stay in any one race style for that long. His race story started late in life (teenage years) and was mostly considered too old for positions with teams or had bad timing/luck with the teams he was on. But that is the story for 99% of race car drivers isn’t it? We just never hear about them so it seems unusual.

So, TopGear coming up as an opportunity was a blessing in a way, almost as much as it was a curse. What it seemed to be was a very-very part time job that despite the risk involved, would not provide enough regular pay to live on. The calls for doing appearances seemed irregular and in order to make ends meet after ditching his marketing career in favor of race driving, he had to enlist in the army in order to pay the bills.

Something does strike me as slightly crazy about Ben Collins knowing that at one point he was working in Marketing, racing cars, doing stunt work on films, enlisted in the Army and doing TG all at once. Who does this? It isn’t possible. That is like burning the candle at four ends. Nobody can keep that up and not end up dead somewhere. (yes, marketing is deadly)

On the same note Ben has also had some amazing skill/luck combinations that have mostly kept him out of the hospital/emergency room with a racing, stunt driving and military career. He only details one serious crash injury and with all those miles. It seems amazing it has only happened once considering all the crashes in racing that you see on TV.

On other notes it is surprising that in the Top Gear early days many of the stunts and shots they want to get with the Stig are vaguely defined and not at all specked/planned out from a safety or logistical perspective before Ben Collins gets there. It seems to be all managers and idea people pointing at him to figure it out and do the stunts without killing himself. This knack for figuring it out and nicely working for people who don’t really know what they’re doing landed him in his fifth career as a stunt driver and that has worked out in providing some choice movie driving roles, but again not regular salaried work.

I don’t know if I identify with the side of Ben Collins that puts himself through grueling Army military exercises running marathons through the un-marked wilderness while practically starving… but the side that shows juggling act of career with ambition is one that most people face and can relate to, so that angle in his writing works. I think most people have genuinely appreciated the creativity, skill and tenacity that he has brought to The Stig role over the last six years (this was way longer than the time the last stig was able to remain anonymous).

Do I think Ben did the right or wrong thing in reveling his identity? I think he realized that this job like most had an expiration date on it, and with the press on his heels he would be fired eventually when they published some weird proof of his identity without his knowledge. I think he just wanted to get in front of that and get the real story out before it got ahead of him and he lost his job as a result. Everyone wants some kind of control over their career and he hasn’t been allowed any in the last 6 years by taking extreme measures to remain anonymous and it was hampering his ability to get legitimate work so I can understand the motivation on his part.

I’m not sure what the BBC, Andy Willman, Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the TopGear staff should do about this. It is obvious that the unknown driver element is crucial to the Stig character but there are serious gaps in their understanding of what constitutes a full time job. Either find different drivers to freelance all the time or find one to employ with regular pay and benefits. Even if that means they have a desk job the rest of the time or something. You will have far less resentment between presenters if there is more fairness in the compensation structure of the show. That said, keeping secrets in a TV show that is seen by 350 million people in the camera phone internet connected world is going to get more and more difficult. The person tasked with this needs to be compensated/rewarded as much for their secrecy and confidentiality as their driving skill since that is half the work.

I hope that the BBC and TopGear can come up with a solution for this because I certainly can’t. It is weird from all angles and delicate for the BBC as well as the Driver and the fans of the show. I will still enjoy the show regardless though, because of the creativity and general nuttyness of what they continue to do.

Yet, we are dealing with a completley different issue here in our family this week so with a slight change of topic I’d like to remember our car past here a bit. We are mourning the loss of one of our dear friends here that was a hoon-tastic car loving, Granada driving part of our high school years back in the 90’s. This reminds me that there are guys (and girls) all over America that could and would be great TG presenters (and Stigs) because of their love of cars and of pushing the boundaries with them (and laughing at them). 

In comparison, looking at the issues facing the BBC and Ben Collins, it is hard to identify with either side at this point, because they have both had so much success with their shows/careers already and probably have worked something out within five minutes. I’m not sure it is worth getting upset about.

granada whiteWe had just as many laughs with the guys from DGS high school and their Camaros, Mustangs, Fords and Imports over the years as TG has on a daily basis. Now years later it is sad that we’ve seen that some of them have had some serious issues in their lives and in this case we’ve lost one of the best guys to ever take apart a motor. We will miss Edgar Schuster and always remember his 8-track stayin-alive tapes, the 70’s white Granada and the snow tires with spikes doing sparky burnouts while driving my brother to school in 1994-95. Almost all of the four-corners guys showed up to pay their respects this weekend and say goodbye. For my brother, things just won’t be the same without his friend Ed. I’ve heard there is a VHS tape floating around of some hoontastic stuff, maybe worth uploading at some point. Maybe some car-sledding?

Why is it that the brightest stars go out the fastest?

camaro n mustang

I didn't have a picture of the Granada or Ed all I could find on facebook was this one of Scott and Brian from that era. It seems like a blink of an eye and yet it was 15 years ago. Brian says this is the only time Scott wasn't behind him while they were racing and Scott says that Brian has a broken dryer vent sticking out from under his car. I'm just glad they couldn't afford cars with very much horsepower back then when they were 18. Edgar's Granada probably smoked both of them with his nitrous.

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Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and our Jobs

gordon ramsay's kitchen nightmares cooking chef jobs

Gordon Ramsay is actually really encouraging to the people trying to turn the business around.

I really thought Gordon Ramsay was a loud mouthed cook that just liked to take people’s head off from the media snippets I had seen. I wasn’t big on reality television so I never saw one of his shows until I ran across Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares show on BBC America last week and found it so interesting that I added it to the DVR schedule. I can’t verify that some of the stuff that happens on this show or any show isn’t scripted/rehearsed/planned ahead in some way, but the underlying cause here is that these restaurants are in a dire state of business and will go out of business soon, so the object is to figure out the problems and find solutions to give the owners in one week, and then the business owners have to take that knowledge and see if they can turn it around.

The thing I found most insightful was (aside from the cooking, of which I can appreciate more now that I am cooking more) that Gordon Ramsay is very direct when he finds something wrong that is hurting the business and nobody ever does that if you work in a  corporate environment. I wish there was a way that this kind of investigation would happen with companies, in a slightly less dramatic way. Sometimes a company or department is ailing for years and nobody wants to say the things that need to be said, and eventually it just dies.

I find it interesting that the problems I’ve seen in these restaurant businesses have been (in about 7 shows so far) either: 1. The cooks are either too slow or make food nobody likes. (in one case the cook was making food the owner wanted but nobody liked) 2. The food is great but there is a management issue and/or service problems. 3. The decor is not welcoming, clean or classy, but this is never the main reason, always a secondary one.

Within these problems Gordon Ramsay has to sort out the people who work there also and decide if they can do a good job if they aren’t already and how if possible he can transform their work. In several cases he found the head cook to be the main issue and suggested that they remove the cook from the job. After they were gone he found several lower level cooks with better skills and ability than the head cook that were just doing what they had to in order to keep their job. They were stuck working for someone who didn’t know what they were doing, but the lower level rank made it impossible for them to  do anything about it.

I think this is a huge problem in business too. People get hired and stay in a management position for 5-10 years and while they are there the world changes, technology changes and the industry changes. If people don’t keep learning (something that is really difficult to do with a full work and family schedule) eventually they will be completely out of date with their information and the business won’t sell/develop/produce enough or the right things to make a profit. It’s an over simplified view of things but the elements  are true, I’ve seen it many times. In these cases lower level worker people grit their teeth and deal with it because they have mortgages, kids and credit cards that they have to earn a paycheck for. The lucky ones leave and find a better job somewhere else, although there is always the risk that the new job will be the same way since its near impossible to get a feel for personalities before you get hired.

I think that a small part of the solution to this is that the mid & lower level people in a company need to have their opinions viewed as more important. These people know the details of what is needed to the tasks that the company survives on. Sure, some management experience is useful sometimes, but try to solve a programming problem if you’ve never programmed before. Try and manage the tech operations if you’ve never been an admin or be CMO if you have never been a media planner, analyst or advertising creative designer and your previous job was sales. It just turns out badly. It’s incredibly risky to turn to your employees and say “just get it done or else” even if you do have some understanding of what a problem is, if you can’t set the strategy for fixing it and get involved in the process. None of the people who do these tasks have any respect for the managers that demand things all day without any of the knowledge that gets the job done.

I think the large part of the solution revolves around how manager’s roles have changed. It is no longer sufficient to “manage” people without doing the job yourself while you are the manager. It’s a dual role but it is the only way managers can make appropriate decisions about the work being done since they are involved in doing some of it themselves. Gordon Ramsay is actually very good at this. When cooks leave or get fired due to poor work, many times he jumps in and is cooking in these small crowded spaces. (nothing like his restaurants). My current boss also jumps in a lot and knows the ins and outs of what we do, this is rare though, I’ve seen many who don’t.

I think the other job situation he has uncovered several times is how to turn things around for that person that is 2nd or 3rd in command who really does have the knowledge but have been sidelined for years under the direction of the head cook/manager. How do you get that spark back in someone who has been demoralized for so long? It is hard to work in an environment every day when you know that something is not the right thing to do, yet you have to keep working that way because your manager requires it in order to keep your job. It is related to the feeling that I think people have about determining their own destiny.

I also think people need to feel like they have some control/choice in their job situation and taking orders all the time with the knowledge that this is the wrong thing to do wears someone’s confidence down and turns off their creativity and enthusiasm for the job. I call this burnout. I don’t think burnout is from too many hours of work, burnout is from being at odds with your you are tasked to do for too long. And contrary to what people think, being at odds with what you are tasked to do is usually a management problem, the younger people who have been in school more recently are more likely to follow the rules, do things right and want to make things better in an idealistic way. I find that the higher level people who have been there a long time have little  knowledge about how the business technology/process works in detail and make demands based on outdated info, cut corners because they can get away with it and do old things because they have just always done it that way.

That said there are no easy solutions to these problems. Gordon Ramsay is a dynamic personality and he can work with these people one to one to discuss things honestly and figure it out, and in many cases this needs to happen on an individual level in business also. It’s not a company-wide initiative or something that has one solution to. The solution would be different things to different people, all very specific to their individual job and knowledge. And I think managers resist this discussion because they are insecure about the knowledge they may not have and don’t want to lose their job either. I think managers need to spend more time doing the low-level work or else they will be disconnected. Asking your employees to make suggestions or tell you the solutions is a cop-out too. If they have the all answers to problems all the time, they should be paid the same level as the managers who are really supposed to do that work. (or be the manager) So, there is no incentive for group management when someone is paid a higher wage to be the manager.

I suggest that managers/directors, VPs and C-level execs start digging in the trenches with their workers on a weekly basis and they will learn more about their jobs/departments/businesses than they thought possible and the business will be healthier as a result. The workers will hopefully have a better job situation where they do have some control over what they do because the expectations are in line with what they can provide, so they don’t get burnt out and have to leave. People also need more time to learn, but with homes, kids and regular 40 hours a week of work, I’m not sure how to fit that in, but it is an important part of the recipe for success.

Who thought Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares would suggest a new paradigm for American business? Its possible, let’s get to work.

And this recent article seems to support my idea that constant learning is the only way a workforce can stay competitive in the global chaos we live in.

Blog Template Redesign

I just noticed that WordPress had some new template CSS designs available and I decided to update around here a bit. I hope you like this clean white bright design from their library of options, I thought it looked cool.

I am in a bit of a blog catch up month since the wedding is past and work is now the crazy part of my life. I hope that by month’s end (Aug 09) I will be updating my collection of blogs more than once a week. (each!) I know its a challenge but I really enjoy how different Blogging is than my regular day job in data analysis of online advertising. Sure numbers are cool, but sometimes you need a break from all the format requests for millions of little excel tables in minuscule fonts. (that are of course needed all on the same day and only with 24 hours notice or less).

All in all I am tired, but blogging still excites me and I am happy to have a job in the current market, even though I get frustrated just like everyone else at some point. So, I will hopefully be more active on the Protagonist5 blog again soon.

ps- Why does WordPress come up as a mis-spelled word in the spellcheck of the WordPress.com editor?

Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?

Google is not making us Stoopid in the Attention Crash Its Productivity Stupid

This article by Nick Carr in the Atlantic last month brought up some interesting points about the attention crash and Google in regards to whether these innovations are hurting us more than helping in productivity. This article on marketing brought up some more points today.  I have been through this internet addict cycle and back again and maybe some of my experience can help those looking to prune back the hedges of web information overload (or overlord) in their life.

Is Google Making us Stopid? I think not!

Is Google Making us Stopid? I think not!

First off, I don’t agree that Google makes us stupid (or stoopid) but I do think it influences how we consume information and creates a false sense of know everything because we are plugged in every day, searching on every idea that comes to mind and reading a million blogs, emails, widgets and feeds every day. If we have full Internet access at work, good luck getting any work done if your company doesn’t block perezhilton and facebook.

We live in an era of information overload and we skim everything and really read and absorb nothing. No one can consume at this rate. People are stressed out by the number of media sources they have to keep up with daily (and on weekends) and we feel constantly inadequate because of all the bragging that goes on about successful products launched, and big money made on the net.  It’s no surprise then that we are constantly driven to consume more information and media to fill the brain with more discovery serotonin and yet we feel that we aren’t getting anywhere since most of us aren’t paid to consume this information and analyze it for a living. It is very contrary to most of our life goals with our jobs and families.

I started blogging and consuming massive amounts of media in 2002 and was completely burnt out by  2005 from a mix of Scoble, MicroPersuasion and every social networking site available plus news, alerts and emails. (plus following every move of the google monster as it grew) I did not really get much done at work, luckily I was very good at my job so I could get it done in less than the time allotted and I tried to move my real job towards this social media category. I was consumed by all the feeds, blogs, feedbliz emails, IMs, regular emails, networking sites and Flickr. It didn’t get me anywhere I wanted to go though, except the inside track on some new things I could talk about socially before other people knew about them.  (big deal) I ended up looking for a new job instead. My job seemed uninteresting and unimportant compared to the new, exciting and really important things happening on the web. This despite being the one thing that paid my mortgage.

So,what’s an internet marketing girl to do when all this media does relate to your job somewhat but it is also crushing your life? 

1. I did find a job with greater flexibility and more use of my media knowledge. But I also turned a lot of the media off.

2. I abandoned RSS feeds. Too many to keep up with. Too little importance to my life.

3. I stopped blogging everywhere for nothing and just maintained a few blogs that really mattered and one that provides some small side income.  

4. I cut out radio, TV, papers and magazines with the exception of TIME Magazine (because I need something to read on the train) and Netflix (because I don’t have cable and like to have something decent to watch once or twice a week after work). (radio was cut out because of the train also, if I was still driving to work I would listen to NPR)

5. I won’t lifestream (too invading of my privacy) and dislike twitter (I don’t need another internet addiction). This means I miss a lot of info and some trends but I don’t get worked up about it because I found that most of these super mini-micro-trends never make it to mainstream anyway.

6. I unsubscribed to a boatload of emails and started a new email account that was less spammy.

7. I also stopped reading a lot of blogs. The only ones I read now are bookmarked as links in my browser and if I don’t find something useful there for a few weeks I delete them. (or if they are friends they get linked into LJ) And I can’t read the buzz building blogs of Forester, Scoble and Giga Om. Scoble is great but no one can keep up with that man. (he is a 24 hour blogging machine!) Forrester and GigaOm are always wrong. I am sick of being led astray into an area that doesn’t fit or benefit mainstream business. I did start reading PerezHilton though. Its quick, about 5 minutes, scan through what looks interesting/funny and skip the rest.

8. I also have kind of cut back on signing up for every site beta that comes up because there are millions of them and the purpose of these sites has gotten further away from positively influencing my life in the past few years and more about distracting me. I still sign up for some, but by the time the beta password comes in, I usually find it wasn’t that relevant after all.

9. I stopped checking in on social networks daily. Once a week is enough. And flickr gets updated maybe once a month.

10. Oh yea, I also got a boyfriend and found that being with him was much more rewarding than being online all the time consuming information about everyone else’s successes.

I have come back from the attention crash and maybe some of these tips can help others. Yea, some of these blogs are going to see traffic drop but we will all be able to sleep better at night and work better during the day as a result. And when your family and mortgage are counting on it isn’t that really what is most important?

Some things I still do that have survived the internet pruning:

1. Subscribe to feedbliz emails for about 10 blogs directly related to the media I work with and personal finances. (frugal living type topics since we are in the middle of a recession)

2. I keep up with emails from work and friends.

3. Use IM to converse quickly and the phone (gasp!) for longer conversations.

4. Read TIME magazine weekly. It has evolved into a much hipper, savy, snarkier mag than you think.

5. Check the news on the yahoo login page for my personal email for news.

6. Keep up with google alerts on terms related to my work, friends and family. I guess this is super targeted and as behavioral as one can get. You would have thought they would have put ads in Google alerts by now.

7. Blog on my personal blog, marketing blog and other blog about once a week. That is about all I can keep up with.

8. Most weekends I am offline entirely. If I want to spend time with real people it has to be out of the house and therefore offline. Plus laundry and dishes need to be done sometime!

9. I have a cut off time whether all the stuff is done or not because sleep is more important to me than you might think. I try and got to bed by 10 or 11 but 12 is the cutoff for sure.

10. I remain anonymous and aliased online because I want to be able to say what I think when I want without the fear of someone’s difference of personal opinion affecting my professional or personal life.

So, in summary I think my findings indicate that it’s not Google that is making us Stupid (or Stoopid) it’s ourselves and the decisions we make about how we will spend our time (and money).

How to keep learning new skills as we get older

I used to think that it was weird to not be learning all the time. You spend 9 years in grammar school, 4 years in high school and if you are lucky, 4 years in college. All total,  that is 17 of your first 21 years in school with daily lessons, lectures, homework, required reading, tests, quizzes, projects, essays and exams. Then you have to make the jump to the working world whether it is in business or other areas and you still have to learn, but it is everything not included in your schooling. How your company works, how people work, what is required there and all their multitude of processes and products.

At that point you usually meet someone much older than yourself that has no idea what is happening in technology. And not just high technology, they don’t get basics that most people use just to function daily like email, pivot tables or search engine optimization. What you don’t know is that they are the future you. They don’t want to change because they say they have just done things this way all these years and it has always worked with paper files, binders, phone messages and post it noes. You look at them and their outdated clothes and rows of beanie babies around their cubicle like they have 3 heads. How can they work this way? How do they get anything done? How can a company value someone antiquated like this over me who has all this knowledge and ability (yet with 0 experience). 

Then time marches on. You become acclimated with the business environment and get promoted or jump to a better job a few times. You balance social, personal and work life stuff and think wow it’s a lot to manage and are always tired. Then some of you have kids and are even more tired. Then you wake up one day and realize that you have become that antiquated person you ran into years ago because they hired some younger workers that are all gung ho about getting ahead and talk about things you don’t understand. Now all college grads come to work knowing how to build databases and web sites even if they got a degree in English? How can they know so much so fast? 

You wonder how 10 years flew by and you haven’t really added anything new to your skill set because you work 50 hours a week, have a relationship on weekends and laundry/dishes/cat/cleaning/reading/few social things weeknights. (you don’t even watch TV for god’s sake) How can you go to school at the same time? If you have kids, how can you exist on less than the 4 hours of sleep you get now just so you can spend time learning? And when will you ever get around to painting the garage? How is this possible when some mornings you come to work 1/2 asleep with 2 different shoes on?

Are companies going to only hire new youngsters for all the positions because they make less money and have more tech skills? How much does experience matter?  Why did it piss me off for weeks when the new wordpress.com backend system was launched, and nothing made any sense anymore? I didn’t have time to spend looking for hours for where everything had been moved to and was just mad that it wasn’t where it was before and it took forever to post. And there was no communication from those adsense loving wordpress people about where everything had been moved to. They thought this was self explanitory? (Not!)

I think I started to recognize some of these changes happening to me in the past few months. I never planned on stopping learning and the things I chose to learn about in my spare (and fleeting) time were never really panned out useful things. So, back to the drawing board. I feel like I need a lot more technical skill to remain ahead of the curve in my job and be able to keep finding great work over the decades to come. And I want to do that along with have a family and marriage and the whole kit and kaboodle. I don’t think this is a women’s issue anymore either really. Men face the same questions as they get off the fashion bus and start looking, sounding and working more and more like their fathers.

Another thing I realized the other day is that I may try and shop at more contemporary stores, but I basically dress exactly like my mom. And she is 67 and I am 32. I used to hate how my mom dressed, and now I am her?  Is this just the arrival of the long plateau of middle age? Are the middle ages of me going to be anticlimactic and uneventful? Or how can you bridge multiple generations, technologies and social groups all at the same time while still getting 8 hours of sleep at night? 

I don’t know how this is all going to work. I suppose many people don’t write about it on blogs, or maybe even recognize the change until they can’t find bleached jeans and high tops at Kohl’s anymore. But it bothers me because I don’t want to stop learning and get left behind. Especially when the economy keeps changing so much every year and the jobs go with it. How do you not get outsourced when literally everything can be outsourced today? How do you keep going to school when most universities require full time attendance of a degree program and not piece mail courses as you need them? How do you find time to do homework when you have bills to pay and garbage to take out and emails from your boss? Even reading was hard to get back into after years of not focusing like that for an extended period of time.

Here is what I have been doing about it and working on over the past years and what I would like to continue to work on:

1. About 2 years ago I started reading books again. I read TIME every week, but that is pretty short. I found it hard at first to just read for an hour at a time because I had gotten so multitask happy with the internet and channel flipping.

2. I also decided it was time to start pushing back sometimes at work and saying No. You literally can’t do that when you start out, and sooner or later you have to set limits and not do everything for everyone else when you have a limited time to do it. The whole idea of urgency and priority come into play and they shouldn’t be anyone else’s priority or urgency but yours. People will negotiate and try and get as much from you as possible but it’s not in your best interest if it’s not really in your job description.

3. The last year was one where I decided it was time to have a self hosted blog. Everyone and their sister had one but me, and it wasn’t supposed to be impossible or anything. So, I bought a url and went to town for about 2 days straight truing to figure out how this wordpress thing worked, researching themes, plugins and all the possibilities and building it. It was a great learning experience although it has nothing to do with my work.

4. This year I had a client that insisted on a different data process than what we usually provided and I had to learn Pivot tables. I still don’t know them to the extent I need to probably, but it helps immensley. I still have more of the high end Excel stuff to learn.

5. I also had to learn Access. I guess 2 days in a class can’t really teach you everything though so I should either retake the class or take another one because my skills there still don’t match what I need them to.

6. I also wonder about math and statistics. I should really go back, take the prerequisites and then statistics. This is what I get for not taking it initially because I didn’t want to work in business. Sheesh. This is by far one of the hardest things to do because, I am not fantastic at math, it has been about 14 years since I have taken a math class and it means driving back to the community college I attended a million years ago. It also entails weekly classes and weekly homework. This could be 10 hours a week or more. Where am I going to find 10 hours a week? Where do people who have kids find that time?  Is sleep allowed?

7. I also think it is time I got better at this friends/networking thing at work and outside it. I have never been that great at the social stuff, but I am meeting more and more people who weren’t necessarily either, but because there are some ground rules in business and no need to act like Jr High kids anymore, they are pretty good at it now. This helps get things done faster when they need to be, and it makes work and life generally more fun. It also helps not to work with assholes.

8. What I would also like to do more of is learn about web pages and building them, coding and sleuthing out issues with them. This comes up with work and would be an asset.

9. Long term I have to get into databases and SQL. I have no choice. It will mean more classes and more time than I know I can find and afford, and that isn’t even the expensive part like tuition.

But what is the alternative? To be outsourced in a few years? To be relegated back to the minimum wage jobs that we had back in college but would be even more difficult to get since they would rather hire energetic young people now, with better tech skills?  The way I see it, the only way to survive is to go onwards and upwards. I have to keep learning things whether I have time for it or not.

Top 10 Signs you have been working too much

1. You try and open your car door with your key card.

2. You try to open your home’s front door with your key card.

3. You dial 9 before the number when you try and dial your home phone.

4. You have dreams about meetings, coworkers and your work. You wake up in a pile of papers you were reading when you fell asleep. Bonus points if it is in the living room.

5. You wake up on Saturday, get dressed and don’t realize you don’t have to be at the office until you see all your neighbor’s cars still parked in the driveway.

6. You wake up on Sunday, get dressed and don’t realize you don’t have to be at the office until you see all your neighbor’s cars still parked in the driveway.

7. You get really bad caffeine headaches on Saturday and Sunday.

8. You don’t know what to do with yourself on Saturday or Sunday. Your social life has kind of died since you got this job.

9. Your home has no real food in it, just coffee and granola bars.

10. There is a pile of dirty laundry the size of Mt Fuji around your closet and dry cleaner bags and hangers on the floor everywhere.

Bonus signs:

11. You have no idea what TV shows are new this season or what plays on what channel on which days. Ditto for what songs are popular this year.

12. Your big Friday night plans you are all excietd about involve take out chinese food and sleep.

13. You have never meet your neighbors. Bonus points if you live in an appartment building and you have never seen your neighbors.

14. You sometimes slip and call your kids the names of the people who work for you.

15. Your home was vandalized, the TV and DVD player are gone and you didn’t notice.