Shortguide to Sifting through Advice

Advice you probably don't need -

Advice you probably don’t need –

As of late, I have been the victim of unsolicited career advice. At first I was flattered by the abundance, because frankly it means someone cares enough about me to think about my future. Then, I became overwhelmed by all the possibilities that came my way by hearing all these inspiring words of wisdom. Finally I became paralyzed, because much of this advice is contradictory and seems totally irrelevant to my current ambitions or track record thus far. So, what to do?

Just as I was coming out of my advice coma, a long lost cousin contacted me to learn more about a career in international relations. I had been wracking my brain about what to tell her when we finally connect, because I’m still reeling from my week of mismatched mentorship. At least my advice will be solicited, which absolves me of only half of my problems. What about the rest of my advice? How relevant will it be for her when she starts her career? Why would she ever trust me and why would my advice be particularly useful? These are the questions that passed through my mind until I remembered that these are her problems, not mine. She asked me for advice. She will need to put on her big girl boots and sift out the good, the bad and the useful for herself and simply know that my intentions were good.

In thinking through this cycle of advice, mentorship, professional development, supervising, managing and being a cog in a wheel for the next 35 years, here are a few things that I would offer (unsolicited) to help strike a healthy balance between listening and unlistening to the bits of ‘knowledge’ that will come your way, no matter what field you specialize in. Consider this a short guide to sifting through career advice.

Broke Life –

1 – Money advice rarely ever changes. Career advice and money advice aren’t the same thing. – In my field, there are particular positions that are coveted for the political cache they yield. You hear that people come out with powerful networks and transform into semi-Gods. Ok, fair enough. But, these positions are often low paid, high powered, and stressful. Your spouse will probably hate you. The credit card companies will love you. Your gas guzzling car will enjoy being fed every 3 days for your 1 hour commute to & fro. But, your co-workers will know your name! There is a price to pay for power and I consider it very steep. So, you’ll need to decide for yourself what drives you. If you want to be the talk of the office, maybe it’s worth it. If not, you’ll want to think long and hard about what’s important to you, because you may be taking a pay cut to chase someone else’s dream.

2 – Thinking of your day job as your second stream of income is transformative. – There are some people who enjoy going to their offices because the work is fulfilling and they are passionate about the organization. I know very few of these people who live with this reality every day. There are days when you’re going to want to stab someone with a pencil, no matter what office you work in. But, sometimes it’s important to realize that your day job allows you to have expensive hobbies or lucrative independent businesses or priceless experiences that you can only float with your day job money. For me, that’s been going to school. For others, it can be jewelry making, art collecting, import/export, teaching, photography, and a whole slew of other opportunities. Sometimes it just takes remembering that you’re not a slave to your day job; in fact, your day job allows you to be free in other areas of your life. So, switch around job #1 and job #2 in your head and it can change your whole mindset.

Back in my Day

Back in my Day

3 – The industry you’re in likely changes every 10-15 years. So, know which generation of professional you’re talking to and balance well.  – Like I said, this has been a rough few weeks because very successful individuals in my field have been inclined to share with me what they think is best for me. Yet, I’ve found much of their advice to be dated, because when they entered the field the rules were different. Does this mean that I throw out all their well-intentioned advice? Well, of course not. Some nuggets of it are worth listening to simply because these people are at the top and, right now, I have to know the lens they’re using to define success when they view me. Why? Their minority point of view, since it’s at the top of the hierarchy, still rules the game. Their views prevail when it comes to promotions and hiring. So, while I don’t agree with everything they may believe, I need to know WHAT they believe so I can play to my strengths and moderate expectations when dealing with these career power brokers.

Get Like Me

4 – When most people say ‘success,’ you should hear ‘be like me.’ – When offering unsolicited advice to a colleague over sangrias recently, it dawned on me that the reference for ‘success’ is rarely ever Oprah or Warren Buffet. In those terms, people mean ‘rich.’ Or when people say Gwen Stefani or Jay-Z, they mean ‘famous.’ You have to read between the lines to know if their vocabulary really defines ‘success,’ because what I’ve found is that most people are just talking about themselves. Sometimes that’s great, esp. if you’re talking to a mentor whose excellence you want to emulate. The greatness is that most people are just telling you how they would have lived their lives or made professional choices differently if they had the chance to do it again; you can avoid their missteps. Other times, you will have to agree to hear, but not to listen because some of the circumstances of your advisor’s life or interests just don’t apply to you or yours.

5 – Everything people say about others is true (to some degree). – My workplace is an institution built on talking shit about co-workers. Workplace gossip isn’t new, but I was shocked to the degree that it was codified and perpetuated in my industry. People believe that hearing how others have worked with a person will help them decide to bring that colleague onto a new team. While this can be altruistic, it also sucks because there are probably 2-3 dozen people who like you (good), thousands who don’t know you (neutral), and about 3-10 dozen who have personal or professional misgivings about you (bad). The nice people in the latter category just don’t say anything, but there’s a small minority who will rip you a new one at the first opportunity. You probably don’t even know that they hate your guts, but your future boss now does! But, understand that smack talking works 2 ways. It’s highly likely that if they don’t like you, you don’t like them – so your time will come.

Workplace Gossip – jazminehurteportfolio

The true revelation is that pretty much everything you hear about colleagues is true to some extent. The question is just how relevant is Jack Smith’s dreaded experience with Jane Doe in Honduras on a marine life conservation project to my projected experience partnering with Jane on a microcredit project in the Mali three years from now. It’s anyone’s guess! If Jane and I work well together, it isn’t to say that Jack was lying. It is to say that we have different angles & needs from Jane as a colleague. And Jane is not one dimensional. The reality is that Jane might not have liked marine life, she may have been going through a bad break up, she probably doesn’t speak Spanish and it’s highly likely that she thinks Jack was a total douche bag. And all of that, too, could be true… so what now?

In giving and receiving advice in your work place keep these thoughts in mind (or don’t), so that you can hear the wisdom through all the noise!

Ring Side: The story of my engagement ring

Wikipedia Rough DiamondI have never seen the movie “Blood Diamond” and I have never downplayed the diamond to sound less materialistic to men. I genuinely wasn’t interested in diamonds and I thought I had three very good reasons why: 1) I think the diamond industry is monopolistic to the point of being predatory all up, down and through it’s delivery chain. 2) I think the act of gifting diamonds is incredibly uncreative. 3) I think it’s just a goddamn rock. Suffice it to say that I have been avidly anti-diamond since my teenage years, but one year in India changed all that.

I was completely unprepared for the realities of the Indian diamond, gem and jewelry market, all of which made me rethink my previous thoughts. First, while the industry remains incredibly brutal, the industry’s pricing for Indian consumers is drastically less than it is for its Western consumers. The difference is dramatic; often the same quality stone (and often a lower quality gold setting) will cost an American two to three times as much in America than it costs an American in India. Imagine the price drop for an Indian in India. Maybe the delivery chain on that side of the Atlantic ocean isn’t as predatory? Second, when I buy diamonds for myself, that nullifies the creativity clause. Whatever I buy for myself is always incredibly fly. And, third, when the price of said rock becomes affordable, dare I say reasonable, then maybe I can remove the diminutive “just” from my thoughts and acknowledge, without judgment, that yes, it is a rock. A very pretty rock.

Well, it took me a full year to actually buy diamond jewelry for myself. The first purchase was gut wrenching. It was a Mughal style antique emerald and uncut diamond ring, set in what’s probably just aluminum foil. I was too much of a novice then to know that I should not have paid what I paid, but it was pretty and I thought that buying vintage was like recycling – no? No. It’s not and I wasn’t fooling anybody but myself with this shucking and jiving intended to distract from the fact that I was really making a fundamental change. Perhaps, I can only liken the jolt of my buying diamonds to what I imagine it would feel like for me – a pescatarian for 11 years – to eat land-animal meat again. Taking that step would mean that many boundaries, more ritual than moral, would be broken. I asked myself, “is there anything you won’t do?” (If I told you my answer, I’d have to kill you.)

Imagine my shock and awe when I fell in love with my engagement ring. To be clear, I fell in love with the ring AFTER I fell in love with the man. But, the ring and my reaction to it caught us all by surprise – me, my jeweler, and my fiancée. See, both my jeweler and my fiancée had heard my long rants about how I didn’t want a diamond wedding ring and how diamonds were so incredibly boring. I can still see my fiancée’s face now – his pockets disappointed, but his eyes gloated “gotcha now little miss goodie two shoes!” Yea well he got me, literally. Only my visiting friend – ever the touchstone of American stereotypes – reminded me that I was supposed to want a diamond ring. That, in fact, I should want an even larger one than the one I wanted and that I’d be a fool for thinking that now was the time for playing teenage anti-diamond activist.

Yet, for the three of us who looked like deer caught in headlights, the knockdown drag out battle between me and myself raged on for close to an hour. What did I stand for if I would cave now? Didn’t that violate thought #2? Hadn’t I broken all my rules when I bought my own diamond jewelry? Was I being a hypocrite? Did I set this man up to think he would really be able to marry me by proposing with a piece of ivory, when what I really wanted was bling? Wasn’t he stupid for believing me in the first place?

Maybe the answer to all these questions is ‘hell yes.’ All I know is that I walked out of that store an engaged woman and everybody was all smiles. The morally sound little girl inside of me awoke from her slumber, but then she stared into the glow from the pretty, shiny rocks on my left hand and she went to sleep dreamily happy.

I laid that little girl to rest peacefully in India and, gleefully, showed off the symbol of my being a taken woman. In India, people don’t typically get engaged with diamond rings. So, there’s no oohing and aahing over the jewels. They want to know why they haven’t yet received the wedding invitation, if I’m planning to have a nikah or if I want to wear bangles for a full year. In their minds, if the date isn’t set – then what’s the value of yapping about being engaged? Fair enough.

I have no answer for that wedding date question, but first things first! I had to come home to face the family and friends I left behind – those that wished me well and those that clearly couldn’t give a damn. There were the men of yesteryear that said, ‘yea, I saw your Facebook page. That’s him right?’ And my cousin who, 3 weeks after seeing me in person wearing my ring, said “Congrats girl! I just saw your ring in your pictures. You’re engaged, right?” We all knew this day would come, but oh how awkward and social media dependent it was.

Let me say, here more than ever I’ve had to go back to rethinking the ring. Let me just list a few of the questions I’ve gotten, “What kind of cut is that? Why did you get a band? How many carats is it? What’s the clarity? From India, really? He must really love you, huh?” I could go on, but I’m too tired to dig.  Obviously, nothing was ever meant with malice and a lot of the time people sounded more impressed with my ring than even I was. What’s come full circle, however, are the original questions I asked myself about what having, buying, wearing diamonds means to me.

My few self-purchased pieces are really just for show. They are not born from an act of love, or a symbol of ever-lasting commitment. They are not meant to be worn everyday and they are more an investment than adornment. But, my engagement ring – the very thing that binds this man’s heart to me despite the almost 8,000 miles that lay between us – is special. It shouldn’t be a challenge to some teenage rules I lived by to silently shame the De Beers and Oppenheimer families. It shouldn’t be a fall from moral grace. It shouldn’t be a topic of conversation or comparison. It shouldn’t be a symbol of self-doubt.

It should be transcendent. Symbolic of a new era. A time when I don’t owe anyone, but this man, an explanation for my actions, my choices, my happiness, and my glee. For all intents and purposes, this set of rocks is supposed to symbolize change, the forging of a new foundation with a partner. Perhaps, this is a choice that I can make while on this team that I never would have made alone. Dare I say, it never even occurred to me to make this choice when I was alone. As I think about it now, it never occurred to me even when I was previously in serious relationships. What my inner teenager would call being a sell out, feels a lot like being an adult to me now.  In other words, it sure feels like I know ‘he’s the one.’ He, being the man – not the ring.

So, like I said, until about two months ago I was avidly anti-diamond. As of today, I’m madly in love with a man who loves the woman I am today, the raging teenager he had to assuage to get to me and the sleeping little girl that he kisses on the forehead every night via Skype.  For all the things that this ring conjures up of my past and the road that led to that serendipitous trip to Mumbai in October, I am rendered speechless by all that it will mean in the days we have yet to see.

‘Til every last prong breaks, and every last diamond falls out – may we be bigger than our abstract thoughts and open to all the new challenges that this partnership will withstand. May we be strong and light. May we be a rock.

A very pretty rock.