Thursday, November 21, 2013

Introvert Myth

It's funny how a single personality can have a transformative effect on an entire office. It's like something I vaguely remember Deepak Chopra saying to Conan O'Brien about how the way your "energy" oscillates affects all those around you. It's as if a wayward electron that usually swerves right decides on this overcast day to zoom straight ahead, bouncing off other electrons to create a chain reaction that has all your coworkers singing and dancing.

My mentor, Gary, tells people I "brighten up" the office, but I've never really known what he meant by that. I know I dress like a kook sometimes, wearing big flower blooms in my hair and gaudy costume jewellery over fruit-patterned skirts. I know it can sometimes be overwhelming when I bring up the Spanish Inquisition or Hannibal's exploits in Carthage while someone's trying to eat their microwaveable lunch. (My friends have always insisted I've been on the intense side.) But how does all this translate to "changing" an office culture exactly?

On Monday, a veteran freelancer came in to fill in for an art director, who was away on vacation. Overnight, this corner of the creative floor swept away the cricket chirps and tumbleweeds. There was more friendly chatter and general camaraderie. If I had to simplify it, the results could be explained by the very act of replacing an introvert with an extrovert.

***

It seems like every year, articles are written describing the merits of being an introvert. These people are described as being thoughtful, private, and intelligent. Inevitably, people I would have never considered an introvert would describe themselves as thus.

Baloney!

Paul's a bonafide introvert. We've been together over 4 years and in that time, he's put his foot in his mouth more times than I can count.  He's embarrassed me in front of guests, said things without thinking of how they would be perceived in specific contexts, the whole shebang of social un-sophistication.

But in that time, he's learned the value of pretending to be an extrovert once in awhile.

Which brings me to my latest (job) update: through my connections at work, he was introduced to a photography agent and will be meeting with the owner of a notable production company to see if he can get into shooting commercials. Over the past year, I've pushed him to attend networking events and join business groups. He used to resist, telling me he was uncomfortable "selling" himself and felt like a fraud, but over the past year, he's become a natural schmoozer. I told him had he not got in the practice, he wouldn't have been able to take advantage of all the opportunities that came his way.

I mean, extroverts are just as likely to have depth and be conscientious and feel worn out after an hour of partying, but we don't make people feel like they're doing all the work in a conversation.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kids these days

I filed a sexual harassment complaint against someone at work last month. The report spanned three and a half pages, single-spaced. I recorded dates and conversations in detail.

The perpetrator, AW, made incredibly inappropriate comments to me (which he still denies). My boss and his boss went to HR, told him to stop, and advised me to confront him directly after they opened up a file on him. I did so and he nearly shit his pants. 

Fast forward to this week. It was his birthday a couple of days ago and my friend took him out to have dim sum with the rest of the junior creatives. I declined the invitation, but asked if she could pick me up some savoury buns. During the meal, she discreetly asked the waiter for them and AW asked her who she was ordering for. She demurred. He insisted until she relented and told him the buns were for me.

Well, that set him off. He told her I had ruined his birthday lunch by "being there without being at the table" and both he and his gorilla sidekick called me a "huge bitch" for accusing him of sexual harassment since he's "awful to everyone!" (no arguing with that). 

In my defense, I doubt I could have ruined his birthday lunch considering how foolish he acted.  My friends told me he didn't recognize anything on the menu and made fun of the dishes with his gorilla friend, saying how everything probably contained "duck fetus" and is gross. At one point, the table required an extra place setting and instead of asking politely, AW lifted his plate up over his head and tapped it: "A plate. We. Need. A. Plate." Obnoxious little man.

Needless to say, I've been giving him the cold shoulder ever since I pulled him aside for "the talk."  He, on the other hand, tries to find reasons to hang around my cubicle even more. My indifference must be driving him nuts.

His gorilla sidekick left for a new agency today, so he has few allies left. (A senior copywriter called the creep out for stroking another woman's hair today.) Let's see how long he lasts before everyone gets sick of this lazy, credit taking, work stealing, intellectually empty, hack.  

Monday, December 03, 2012

New Job + Update

Paul was accepted into a government-assisted program, which grants him a minimum wage salary to learn small business skills with other budding entrepreneurs. 

It was pretty competitive this year as they received 80 applications and narrowed the candidates down to 20. However, the first month has been a bit of a joke because the instructors have been focused on teaching life skills (i.e. showing up on time, learning to finance a car, etc.).  But Paul says the pace is picking up: the students are expected to register their businesses and apply for HST numbers in two weeks.

I've been working at an advertising agency called McLaren McCann. They're pretty well-known or so I hear (their sister company in Australia produced the "Dumb Ways to Die" viral video).  I've never worked in advertising, so it was a little intimidating at first. I'm in the TV/radio department, so I support the producers.  The job has come pretty naturally to me because of my experience as both an executive assistant and assistant director, so I can handle complex paperwork and understand the production pipeline. It's a one-year mat leave contract, so it's relatively short, but at least I'll have some agency experience under my belt, hopefully making it easier to find work after this. ("Agency experience" is a very big thing for recruiters; I've been turned down for not having any in the past.)

Anyway, so far, I really enjoy the job. I only got it because I had stayed in contact with someone I had worked with on that TV show "Being Erica" and she recommended me to her friend who happens to work there.  Her friend overheard the producers talking about how they were desperate to find someone to cover for the woman leaving because the person they had initially offered the job to turned it down. So the producers went through HR and received over 250 applications in two days, forcing them to pull down the ad. That's when my resume found its way to the department head's desk. She invited me in for an interview the next day and offered me the job the following morning. 

Good thing, too. My employment insurance application had been extended only a month prior to getting this job offer and I wasn't keen to see where I'd be once it stopped this upcoming March.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Anniversary weekend

Paul and I are celebrating our three-year anniversary this weekend and we're getting married!

Not really.

His parents brought up the subject when they asked when we'd be tying the knot. I told them all I want to do is elope at city hall and then take close friends and family to a fancy dinner. "But," I added, "we don't have money for dinner so we can't get married."

We updated the website with an engagement gallery today after meeting with a potential client who was interested in the full nine yards. It was interesting to see that she was unfazed by our rates. I felt it was necessary to change our pricing structure after determining that we'd like to cater to a more up-market clientele. 

As much as I adore our first couple (the bride and I are now friends), I want to limit our exposure to bargain hunters. Incidentally, those were exactly the sort of customers who contacted us when our prices were low. Our friends and family all suggested we offer rock bottom prices so we can gain experience and raise the prices over time. We chose to follow their advice, but it felt like we were compromising too much and it was a lose-lose situation all around. After speaking to more people, we realized that by nearly giving away our services for free (after overhead), we were helping to raise red flags in the minds of more discriminating brides. In essence, we were implying that we had something to hide or were too insecure to let the work speak for itself.

So we've concluded that there is little to no relationship between the quality of pictures and pricing. It really comes down to marketing, style, and customer service. Although Paul doesn't have many weddings under his belt, our "branding" materials are consistent across the board. We have a professional-looking website with matching business cards on quality card stock and we're also partnered up with a luxury album maker from across the pond.

Rather than selling ourselves short and trying to have universal appeal, Paul and I agreed to just let him be himself and focus on his strengths so we can stand out in our niche and target people who aren't making decisions based solely on price. Frankly, I don't want to start a trend of being recommended because we're the type to give deep discounts to secure short-term business. I know we'd both be disappointed if we delivered a bang-up job and someone said, "Yeah, our photographer was great and the best part? You can always haggle down the price." Although a viable strategy for people who want to make a quick buck and never look back, we'd like to build something larger from this.

Granted, our parents have told us to do anything and adapt to everyone's needs because we're missing out on a "goldmine". I tried to explain to them that if a bride wanted a photo booth service with kooky props as well as paparazzi-style photos on her very own red carpet (we've been asked to do both), it will dilute Paul's portfolio. Moreover, if he did hire a second shooter, he will not be able to guarantee consistency and quality, which will hurt his reputation in the long-run. And really, since that kind of stuff isn't Paul's expertise, who'd want to hire him anyway? It's simply unrealistic to scramble around, renting unfamiliar equipment and paying strangers off Craigslist, just to fulfill the odd request from brides who stumbled upon our site by accident.

Anyway, my mom thinks I'm talking crazy (she only cares about making money and how I'm missing out on all that money) and maybe I am. But it's important to me that our business has integrity because the lack of it helped underscore precisely why I hated my previous jobs.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sisters! Why u so suck?!

An unedited email I sent to a friend, reproduced here:
My sister just came by and told me she wanted an iPad. "For what?" I asked. She says it's for school. She says her e-books [textbooks] are only available online and, to read it offline, she'll need to download an app for the iPad. 
I said, why don't you just read it on your laptop at home? She says it's hard to read and type up notes at the same time. I told her she was bullshitting me and that many people survive school without an iPad. 
She says she already asked mom and mom agreed. I told her not to exploit mom's ignorance about technology. She says her eyes get tired reading off a laptop. I told her, an iPad is a laptop with a smaller screen and no keyboard. 
Then I said, "You flunked out of school. You need to fix your study habits first before you reward yourself with a novelty gadget." 
She says an iPad will help her study better. I told her she can stop feeding me shit. 
Then she stormed out of my apartment and told me to fuck off loud enough for the neighbours to hear. I replied, "Get a job. Improve your study habits. Stop lying to mom. And learn to save money!" 
She retorts that she'll pay for it with her OSAP [student loans] money. C'mon! And she's studying business? Learn some budgeting skills. She has too many screws loose. I can't believe we share the same DNA. 
Oh! And she also tells me I'm out of touch because iPads weren't invented in my time so I don't know how necessary it is. Wow ... I'm old, stupid, and senile, apparently.

Now I confess, I own an iPad 2, but I told her it's not meant for long stretches of reading. I let her compare it to my Kobo e-book reader and the latter was considerably lighter and more comfortable to view and hold.

Backstory: My sister got kicked out of university after spending her sophomore year on probation because her marks were too low. She was accepted into a bachelor's program at a well-regarded college two towns over and started school last week. During our long-winded argument, I kept reminding her that it was her poor study habits that resulted in where she is now. (My sister's also the type to binge drink, wait in line at clubs, has no interest in current events other than celebrity gossip, etc. She's basically an airhead is what I'm saying.)

Paul says when we have children, I will be Tiger Mom material. (He'll be Panda Dad.) He's told friends that I don't take crap from anyone, including him. He respects this about me. But he also criticizes me for being too insistent for an admission of guilt. Paul says it's hard for some people to admit to mistakes even if they make a mental note to never do it again.

Granted, I would've had more respect for my sister if she admitted that she wanted an iPad because everyone else has one and she bought into the hype.  I also would've had more sympathy if she hadn't blatantly lied to our mom about needing one for school, knowing our family is experiencing some major financial difficulties. In fact, she told me only days ago the rent she collects from her roommates is barely helping her break even every month, and yet she wants to use her student loans to buy a stupid toy for herself? What has she done to deserve a pat on the back? Are people handing out trophies for stumbling home safely?

As you can see, our sibling rivalry runs deep. Even with six years between us and two decades to get used to her existence, we cannot be in the same room for more than an hour without fighting. She thinks I'm the biggest hardass and I think she's the biggest dumbass. If there is a god, he must be laughing because he gave me the hardest karmic hurdle to climb and I'm still at base camp.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Olympic-sized hurdles or: How job hunting is more nerve-wracking

The second interview with Disney Canada went well. HR called me in for the 3rd (and, one can only hope, final) round before making a decision. I was told they'd need someone by October 1, but if the candidate can start a month earlier, even better.

It's scheduled two weeks from now (due to vacations) and they've allotted 2-hours for me to meet the HR manager, the manager of marketing and promotions, as well as the director of the whole kit and kaboodle in consecutive time slots. 

I'm not nervous, but I am perplexed and hopeful that this job will pan out for me. (Perplexed because, uh, what the hell did they see in me?) It will require traveling to Florida on a near monthly basis to oversee and host PR events pertaining to Disney-owned properties (parks, resorts, and cruises).

I told my friend that the interviewers must have really responded to my energy because, on paper, I feel like I'm the least qualified out of the possible resumes they must've received. However, the hiring manager liked that I had a retail sales background; spent time as a print and broadcast journalist, and could converse in basic French. And though I had admitted that I had no formal or informal training in PR, she reassured me that it was much easier to teach someone how to do PR than it was to turn someone into a people person. (Good point!)

My friend Ray once called me the "ultimate schmoozer". Looks like those skills finally found a use.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crappy Day

I woke up to the news of the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and it broke my heart. As trivial as it sounds, as a teenager, I used to take mental notes of escape routes for imagined situations just like this. (I was mildly OCD and, of course, I have also been very fortunate.) But what happened in that midnight showing brought up fears I thought I had long gotten over. Movie theatres are intentionally engineered to sever you from the world. There are no windows and doors are discrete. Witnesses described the murderer shooting at people racing for the exits because there was no other way out. I can't even imagine the panic and confusion that struck these people. The gas canister produced a thick cloud that eliminated their vision and all around, their screams punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of bullets penetrating burning flesh.

Within that short span of time, the movie theatre - a bastian of escapism and community recreation - became a death trap and a living nightmare.

***

Paul shouted at me to watch out, but it was too late. I ran over a field mouse. He said he felt it under the wheels and observed it flying off to the side of the road. I went home and cried. To comfort me, he recalled an incident where he nearly hit a rabbit and felt compelled to return to the scene of the crime to clear his conscience. He said he saw a set of footprints on both sides of the street and held out hope that the cute bugger made it home alive.

Paul once stopped his car after seeing a mortally wounded baby raccoon. He stayed with it until it passed on and called Toronto Animal Services. The woman called him back once he got home and said they found the body. He broke down and asked her how she does it. She started crying, "I just take it one day at a time."

(My sister thinks we're one of those bizarrely close couples who could switch genders and still remain entirely unchanged. She might be onto something.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

First date went well

I had a business meeting with a friend of a friend who introduced me to the senior editor at Canadian Living magazine for some potential freelance assignments. Shortly after our coffee chat, I received a call from Disney Parks Canada:

"Are you still interested in the PR position?" asked a sweet-sounding woman on the line.

"Yeah, absolutely," I replied.

She quickly scheduled a phone interview with the office manager and, apparently, I passed and am going through to the next round. The conversation went by in a blur. I don't remember ever having been this nervous for an interview before. The thoughts I wanted to express and the words actually slipping out of my mouth were so out of sync; I might as well have been experiencing an out-of-body moment. And since I couldn't articulate my thoughts as well as I could have, it made me even more flustered.

It didn't help matters that she prefaced one question with an apology and preemptively warned me about its breadth: "If we could go back in time for the launch of [a well-known animated blockbuster], how would you plan the event?" She wanted to know who I'd invite and why; what it would look like/what would it include, and how I'd wrap it up. The hardest part of that question was coming up with enough elaborate, yet purposeful, ideas to meet the standards of a global conglomerate with seemingly unlimited funds. On the fly.

I mean, the biggest party I'd ever attended was a friend's wedding reception two years ago. Girl had expensive taste (the undecorated space alone was $10K/night), but not even close to Mickey & Co.

I hope to make a good impression next week when the interviewer flies in to meet with the remaining candidates. There's a very high probability that I won't get the job because I don't have any real PR experience (I'd just crafted my previous experiences to match what the ad said), but the posting did say French language abilities and a journalism background would be considered an asset.

So we shall wait and see.