Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Madonna

Today is Madonna's birthday. My Madonna memory is when "Vogue" came on at my 9th birthday party. That year, my parents rented the party room at Spinning Wheels, a rollerskating rink that was later shut down when gang-related violence started taking place in the parking lot. But anyway, my party was a blissful day, and when Madonna came on over the speakers, suddenly all my friends started vogueing. I thought it was the most awesome thing.

But alas, we didn't have cable at my house, so I didn't know any of the cool moves.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Things I Learned From Cool Bosses

If you are a nice person, being someone’s boss is one of the hardest things in the world.

Perhaps managing people is no easier when you’re an asshat. I'm not sure. But it sure looks easier if you're the type of person who can bark orders without flinching.

For years, I believed that some of my best traits (I’m gentle, empathetic and trusting) prevented me from being the kind of manager who can earn authority and respect. I’m best one-on-one, and I’d rather orchestrate a sugar-and-caffeine-fueled-brainstorm session than tell people what to do.

But this style, I’m finally here to tell you, makes an effective leader too.

I’m lucky because I’ve had some truly excellent bosses (and observed some bad ones) over the years, and now I get to steal the best techniques.

Like these:

1. Never sound fake. (Nobody buys boss-talk.) 

Example: When I sold black lights and gag gifts at the mall, my boss hated our customers. He never sugar-coated the fact that our clientele—usually teenagers or people who really thought fake poop was funny—were stupid. But he made his expectations clear: we had to sell stuff and be friendly so that we could get paid and create a nice environment to work. And so we did. (And when the district manager visited from Corporate and handed down impossible sales goals on things like cinnamon-flavored Spanish Fly--with a straight face!--we thought he was full of crap.)

Since then, I’ve learned that bosses, in their attempt to seem professional, will sometimes come at you with big words and office jargon that really mean: “I’m trying to mask the fact that I am giving you a stupid task, and I’m pretending that it’s for the good of the Company. Now do as you’re told.”

This is tricky because sometimes, as the boss, you have to rally your staff to do things that you secretly know are total bullshit. Like sell keychains with pictures of fat ladies on them (see above) or compensate for goofy office politics. I think it’s best to level with people, and explain why it is actually important that they do this stupid thing. Then thank them for being so great.

2. Always give your underlings credit. 

Example: One time when I worked in fundraising, I answered the phone. That was it. A foundation was on the other end, and even though I had never heard of them before, they had a big donation for us and they wanted to know where to mail it. Neat!

When I told my boss, Craig, about the call, he went around telling everyone that I had secured a big grant. That big check would have come with or without me, of course, but Craig built me up like that all the time. Now I get it, and I try to do it too. When my colleagues know what great work my staff is doing, they can give our time and efforts the courtesy and respect that’s due. That helps us do our jobs.

Sharing credit also prevents your underlings from secretly hating you for stealing their thunder. The boss always gets all the recognition for their team's work, and that's not fair.

3. Let your people get the hell out of there if they really need to. 

That same boss once made me take my meltdown outside. He recognized that a dozen personal problems were crowding out my ability to function like a human being. He cheerfully pulled me aside, told me to go out, sit with a coffee somewhere, and come back in a better mood. His kindness hit me as such a surprise, I sort of slinked out like a scolded dog. But I was so grateful for the chance to start my day over fresh, I came back motivated to kick ass.

Now, I know that when my employee is acting like she's fried, she probably has a legit reason and needs to go take a walk. That's okay.

4. Let them do what they’re good at. 

This one’s really important. If your work ethic is even halfway decent, then all you really want at work is to do a good job. My favorite bosses have removed red tape, sought approval and found money in the budget so I could get shit done. When it turned out I was better at doing one thing than another, they gave me more of what I was good at, so I could actually shine.

Now, I work with a brilliant designer who, when I can cut her loose, can blow your freaking mind. It's my job to make sure she doesn't get bogged down in too many things that prevent her from kicking ass.

5. Be a person that they can admire. 

This is a tough one, of course, but never stop trying!

Have you ever had one of those bosses who had a mysteriously busy schedule? Who was always dashing off to vague-sounding meetings, but never seemed to have any projects of his or her own? What do they do all day, while you're busting your butt? If they're doing something important, don't you think you should know about it?

The bosses I've admired most have been powerhouses who do great work and let me see it, so I can be in the loop and learn from their experience. They've let me in on the bigger picture. When you admire your boss, you don't just want to coast...you want to raise the bar to play at their level.


Alright then! Get to work! Be honest! Be cool! And most of all, be nice! Your workers will thank you, and hopefully, be more awesome for you. That, Cool Boss, is your reward.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I love Eddie Vedder with all my heart

I love Eddie Vedder with all my freaking heart.

Eddie first rocked my world in 1992, when I was 12. Up to that point, I'd been pretty much flailing along in a pubescent world, desperately trying to define myself, attempting to write hard-hitting articles for my school newspaper and hopelessly crushing on boys who would eventually prove to be dull and dissappointing.

But most of all, I was exhausted by my own clumsy attempts to play it cool all the time. By "play it cool" I mean, specifically, that I felt compelled by the laws of teenagerdom to act like I just didn't give a crap-- about anything. But bored apathy WAS NOT ME, and never would be.

No way. This world routinely leaves me dazzled and breathless. I was, even as a teen, curious, enthusiastic, easily impressed, and I had a bleeding heart. I wanted to patch the ozone layer, rescue dolphins from fishing nets, let gay people get married, and I could hardly wait to vote. And why couldn't people spay and neuter their pets?!? What was wrong with the world? In the mean time, I fell in love with writers, movie stars, teachers, classmates and other males who were no match for my loyal adoration. I cared so much and loved so large, it actually hurt. 

And then came Eddie Vedder...this beautiful human being who sang like his heart was breaking. The first time I played "Ten," Pearl Jam's debut album, I felt like the ground gave way beneath my feet. This, as the media would lambast him for, was a man who gave a crap. Eddie Vedder was talented, popular, jaw-droppingly handsome, and he wore his heart on his sleeve. 

The masses grew tired of Eddie's incessant caring, but I had been somehow validated. Even then, I was sure that I loved in the same tortured way that Eddie did in the song "Black." I knew the grief and loss in his voice in "Release." I ached for the underdog the way he did in "Jeremy" and "Why Go." And Pearl Jam played in my ears and my heart when I started to attend protests and turn my high school newspaper column into a painfully earnest soapbox.

Eddie and Pearl Jam went on to fight Ticketmaster to keep ticket prices low. They minded their carbon footprint, they collected cell phones for abused women, they created ways for their fans to get involved with worthwhile causes. And when Eddie sang, I knew he freaking meant it. 

I distinctly remember long nights as a teen in which I lay awake, genuinely panicked over the possibility that I might never get to meet or even see Eddie Vedder in person. I loved his music so much, I felt like I would never, ever be able to get close enough to it to curb my insatiable longing. 

But over the years, my love for Eddie Vedder led me to new music and authors, best friends, benefit concerts and rallies. His influence would also steer me towards non-profit work. Now, my career is nearing its first decade milestone, and I'm proud to serve as a voice for abused and abandoned animals at a fantastic and progressive animal welfare organization.

And all those wonderful things, I was surprised to find, both quenched and continued to fuel that feeling of large longing. 

Even as Eddie has mellowed, and started to write more songs about the love he has for his family, my heart swells and soars when he sings. In fact, it's his recent solo album that helped me figure out what I'm still searching for in this wide, wonderful world. Apparently, Eddie has found a love that's big enough for his enormous and hopeful heart.

I hope I will, too. 

Today--after 18 years!--my crush on Eddie Vedder is as big and all-consuming as ever. I've followed Pearl Jam around the country and even sat by Eddie Vedder at a hotel bar. (He just didn't know it. Or care.) But I also got to shake his hand after a 3-hour wait outside a concert venue in Santa Barbara. Eddie Vedder held my hand, looked me in the eye, and gave me a few sincere moments of his time. And I knew then that I hadn't been wrong about him. Eddie Vedder's kindness glows. 

He really is perfect.

Cleveland, Mother's Day, 2010