Favorite Books Read in 2014

2014 was not a banner year for tucking reading into free moments; it was more of year of noodling the big philosophical questions in life. However, I still managed to knock out 32 reads in the course of the year. My favorites list is a bit shorter this year, but they were more impactful

Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health (2013) by Alejandro Junger

I survived a 21 day clean eating challenge courtesy of Clean Gut. I eliminated sugar, flour, dairy, most fruit, grains and starchy vegetables from my diet for 21 days — well, I cheated with 3 raisins halfway through — and chased it with a ton of supplements to reset my gut.

The results were kind of staggering.  On the days I planned my meals well, I was high energy, had no interest in snacking and my mood was pretty stable. Now that I’m back to eating whatever, I find that meals filled with processed grains or sugar make me tired and thirsty, something I did not experience while eating clean. And those foods just aren’t as satisfying as the non-processed meals I was enjoying during the program. I highly recommend the Clean Eats cookbook if you’re looking to add some whole foods-laden meals to your diet.

Unexpected side effects:

I had the world’s worst toothache for three weeks. I ignored it because I loathe dentists and the prospect of drilling. Turns out as soon as I started to add some of the missing foods back into my diet at the end of the program, the toothache went away. Go figure.

What the book and anyone who has done similar programs neglected to mention to me is that the sudden shift in what you eat can hit you hard.  I found myself crying on and off for no reason for the 3-weeks, and things that normally didn’t phase me made me really emotional. As soon as I started adding other foods back into the rotation that were verboten on the program, the crying stopped. Amen.

The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul (2014) by Danielle LaPorte

Anyone who knows me fairly well, has probably heard me recommend a book or a pod cast or the mailing list put out by Danielle LaPorte.  I find her electronic missives to be thought-provoking and inspirational, while her longer publications tend to offer prompts that encourage some deep thinking on what you want and how you’re going to take active steps in that direction.

The premise of her latest tome is that to really feel fulfilled we have to focus on how we imagine our successes will feel, rather than the tangible achievements themselves. It’s not buying a Mercedes or getting the big title jump at the office that we’re really chasing; rather, it’s how we thinks those victories are going to make us feel that keeps us chasing the dream. That moment of pride when being acknowledged and validated for your efforts with a promotion is actually bigger and more important than the promotion itself.  Achieving a feeling of affluence as you’re driving off the lot in a status car is the electrifying part, not the new material good.

With that in mind, she encourages readers to think about their goals and their core desired feelings that those goals are meant to achieve.  And you should work to bring yourself closer to those feelings every day, letting go of activities and relationships and patterns that aren’t serving those core desired feelings.  For me  in 2015, the core desired feelings I’m working on more fully realizing, include channeling more electric energy to be in the moment and alive, applying my strengths to feel more powerful and in turn be more impactful, while working to be more connected to the meaningful people in my life.

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair (2014 English translation) by Joel Dicker

The year was not all about self improvement. I could not put down Dicker’s first novel. It followed a novelist experiencing writer’s block on his sophomore effort following a huge splash on the literary scene. He finds inspiration and danger in a cold case involving a missing teenager and his then-twentysomething mentor. It was a page-turner from cover to cover.

What about you? What were your favorite reads of 2014?

The job hunting tips round up

'Mixed Media Painting (Detail) by Choichun Leung / Dumbo Arts Center: Art Under the Bridge Festival 2009 / 20090926.10D.54927.P1.L1.C23 / SML' photo (c) 2009, See-ming Lee - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

On the rare occasion I’ve had time to write these past few years, I’ve mostly focused on my tried and true tips when job searching.  Obviously, all advice is to be considered against your own unique situation, but here’s a round up of what seems to work for me again and again:

Job Hunting 101 | Make a splash in the right pond

'Koi' photo (c) 2009, Hellsgeriatric  - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/What cities are the hot beds of activity for your chosen industry?

How would you rank those cities in terms of employment competition for your industry?

Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

Cross out cities one and two.

A friend studied theater in school.  Of her social circle, most moved to Los Angeles or New York to pursue careers in acting. But one person party moved to Seattle.  Guess who is still working in the arts over a decade later?  Seattle chick had the reel to make the move to LA and keep working once she was established and experienced.

Economic circumstances drove an artsy friend of mine to relocate back to Chicago from Los Angeles. She seems to book more work now than she ever did in LA.

What’s the common denominator? Smaller pond. Less competition. More room to shine.

If you’re just starting out, or don’t feel you’re moving up the ranks fast enough — do you have mobility on your side?  Can you go to the work?

If you’re an ambitious sort, forget looking for work in the most cut throat cities for your industry.  Find the next tier.

Move to a place where your work is more likely to get you noticed and get you promoted. And once you have the credibility and title you want, you can start shopping around for a transfer to a bigger market within your company or be a contender for new roles at prestigious outfits in those top cities for your field.

Sometimes, the best career move is a change of location.



Job Hunting 101 | Know your competition

'Using a Magnifying Glass and Driving' photo (c) 2007, MIke Kline - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Not sure how to transition to a new field? Or how to apply the right industry buzz words to your experience. Can’t afford a resume writer? Get creative.

A few months ago, a contact explained how she analyzed the competition and maximized her odds of landing interviews when she first moved to town.

She posted a want ad for the type of job she sought on a public job board.  Aren’t job hunters used to sending queries into a digital black hole of no return? This dummy ad was no different.

After the influx of cover letters and resumes to a generic email address arrived, she pored through them to find the best applications.   And she analyzed the content and composition of those entries.

She applied her conclusions to her own application materials and saw an immediate bump in interview opportunities.

Obviously, it’s not an approach all job hunters could or should use given the overwhelming number of generic job postings and eager job seekers online already.  It is a reminder that you can get creative with determining how to position yourself amid the competition.

What’s the most unique approach you’ve ever taken to be a top contender for a job you really wanted?

Favorite Reads of 2013

'book hire pics 002' photo (c) 1980, hstower - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Is it really that time of year already? I’m tragically behind on my reading quota, though I hope to add a few notches to the reading post over the remaining holidays of the year.

Still, there were several reads worth recommending.

From the slim non-fiction pool this year:

If you work in marketing or sales, Adam Alter’s Drunk Tank Pink reminds you of all of the intangibles that go into influencing people and their behaviors, from the paint on the walls to the weather to the name your parents gave you at birth. It makes the marketer in me rub my palms together while the private citizen cringes that human nature is so easy to manipulate.

While the Heath brothers aren’t exactly known for breaking new grounds in their books, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work is a great compilation of research and anecdotal stories about decision making. This book helps you break free from the bubble of your own perspective to ensure you consider a broad enough swath of options to make an educated call in both your work and personal lives.

From the growing fiction pile:

Hyperbole and a Half is a genius blog by Allie Brosh. As of this fall, it is also a genius book. I laughed so hard I cried…in public, while reading this book. Her childlike doodles combined with her storytelling style make it a rollercoaster ride through tales about her stupid dog, the consequences of excess sugar consumption, her battle/s with depression and various elements of her childhood. She balances the painful parts with the kind of humor that makes your sides ache.

The Circle by Dave Eggers follows a new employee down the rabbit hole at the next social networking titan as she is forced to make her life and the lives of her family and friends increasingly transparent to the public at large at the behest of her supervisors, despite the negative consequences.  It raises some important questions about privacy, interpersonal relationships and narcissism fed by loose digital connections.

I blame Marisha Pessl for a week of very late reading as I plowed through her latest, Night Film. It’s the story of one disgraced journalist’s obsession with a dark film maker, whose cult following adds layers of mystery to the suicide death of his only daughter.  The writer is determined to finally expose the truth about Stanislas Cordova, his works and his family.

An absolute delight to read, Robin Sloan’s debut novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, allows us to consider the impact of computing on problems that would have previously taken a lifetime to unravel. A retail clerk becomes embroiled in the comings and goings of members of a secret literary society determined to crack the clues left by its founder. He and his Google-employee girlfriend apply book scanning technology to solve a bibliophilic mystery and try to save the bookstore owner’s job through their efforts.

Finally, the The Love Song of Johnny Valentine by Teddy Wayne explores the life of a Justin Bieber-esque tween pop star surrounded by yes-men and women,  from momager to his head of security. Johnny puts his manipulation skills to the test as his lifestyle grows more experimental and demanding when the insecurities of adolescence set in.

Now I’m going to get back to my ever growing to-read pile.

What were your best reads of the year?

4 Things About Marisha Pessl and her work

Marisha Pessl

Marisha Pessl reads from her novel Night Film at the William Turner Gallery in Santa Monica, CA

Last month saw the release of Marisha Pessl‘s sophomore novel Night Film, a tale of the investigative reporter captivated anew by the hermetic cult film director Stanislas Cordova after the apparent suicide of his daughter, despite the career-derailing damage incurred by his last attempts to uncover the truth about Cordova.

If my week of late nights to reach the back cover is anything to go by, the tome is a page-turning, mind bending exploration of the darker side of the celebrity culture mythology and the layers of fact and fiction that obscure the truth. It may very well wind up being my favorite read of the year.

Last Thursday, LiveTalksLA hosted an moderated discussion with Pessl. Here are four learnings from that talk.

1)  She is very regimented in her writing, focusing on the task from 9am to 4pm on weekdays, averaging somewhere between 3-to-7 pages per day. The process is “a marathon, not a sprint”. While Pessl considers herself most productive in her home office, she breaks out of her routine with stints writing in coffee shops and exploring real locations that become a part of her novel.

2) One of her favorite books is Nabokov’s Lolita, due to its “layers and layers of the most beautiful language” with “clues and Easter eggs throughout”. She compared it to a “beautiful garden, perfectly cultivated…new flowers every time you read it”.

3) Can a best-selling author ever speak in a public forum without being asked about advice on writer’s block?  Not as far as I can tell.

Her advice? “Don’t get up.” Your brain will throw you a bone eventually. If you’re still stuck, take a walk to reset. Failing that, she relayed advice given to her by another writer: Wash your hands.

4) While signing books after the discussion, Pessl mentioned she’s working on her next two novels, which should be a thrill for everyone fan because it hopefully means a shorter wait for the next novels to devour.

Note: I did my my best to jot down notes verbatim.


Job Hunting 101 | Including samples with your application

'SlideShare10M infographic feat. me! (wtheck!?)' photo (c) 2013, Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Depending upon your industry, a portfolio of work may be required for consideration, particularly in creative industries. It gives prospective employers an opportunity to see your style and personality come through in deliverables.

If you’re looking to make a transition from one industry to the another it may help to have a  portfolio of projects that reflect the skills you bring to the table. There are a number of free and low-cost sites to build more a more formal experience than adding projects to your LinkedIn account.

Depending upon industry, you’re not always allowed to make plug your work in public spaces, so consider private postings on SlideShare that would allow you to selectively distribute deliverables via private links made available through the service.



Job Hunting 101 | Make life easy for your references

'PurpleMood' photo (c) 2009, Andres Rodriguez - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

If you’ve interviewed well and all parties agree that you’re a good fit for the position, the inevitable reference check is one of the final steps between you and a job offer. And if you can make that experience as easy as possible for your references, they’re apt to speak highly of you the next time you need them too.

First, check in with your preferred contacts to make sure that they are cool with being a reference. If there’s a delay in the affirmative, you may want to consider your other options. Also, it’s just polite — no one wants to get hit with that call out of the blue. And you can also confirm that your references will be in town and reachable by their preferred contact method in the window of time you expect they will be called.

Secondly, once you are certain a reference check will happen, ask the HR rep if you can have a day delay to give your references a heads up; it gets you head of any potential problems. Maybe Bob from two jobs ago has a last minute work trip or family emergency come up and will be out of touch for a few days.  You can give HR a heads up and offer an alternative reference if needed.

It also gives you time  to prepare your references.  You get a sense pretty quickly in an interview as to what qualities and skill sets are needed  for the role, regardless of the actual job description.  Provide a few bullet points as to what traits about yourself it’s key for the reference to drive home, along with a copy of the job description.  Some references appreciate a few related anecdotes to draw from when telling HR how fabulous you are.

Finally, don’t forget to say thank you.  Let them know the outcome of the interviewing whether you get the position or not.  If they’re backing you as a reference they’re invested in your potential and the outcome.

How to shrug off self doubt

I thrive on productivity. I function best when I have a nonstop go-go-go from the moment my day starts until it ends.

Today was 11.5 hours of constant decision-making, working on deliverables, and ushering projects to the next step in their progression.  It was a rolling sea of emails, meetings, web log ins and design comps. And while I wish my workload had been 3 hours shorter, I just wouldn’t have the flow of my day any other way.

Because slow days give me time to start to second guess myself.  And there’s nothing worse than taking your self-esteem on that journey.

Marie Forleo’s Q&A Tuesday this week covers how to shake off any niggling self-doubt that may creep in during your business day.

Job Hunting 101 | Say thank you

'thank you note for every language' photo (c) 2010, woodleywonderworks - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Job hunting took longer than I’d prefer. And I’ve learned a few things in the process. Since contacts keep calling me for advice, I’m posting some of those lessons here.

Write thank you notes. No – not thank you emails. Handwritten missives for realz. There are times to go old school with the Pony Express: informational or job interview — those make the short list.

How much real mail do you get on any given day? Bills, catalogs, bulk rate mail, sure. Handwritten communication has practically gone the way of the dodo. Kids don’t even have to learn penmanship in school anymore because it’s just assumed they’ll all play a few rounds of Typer Shark to learn how to express themselves.

So imagine your interviewer getting a neatly written thank you on crisp stationery to break up the usual pile of continuing education flyers, office supply catalogs and invoices.

It makes an impression.

You want interviewers to remember you. Make the impression.

Buy some stationery that reflects your personality and your industry. Hot pink florals probably aren’t going to fly for an accounting job. But you might be able to find an understated color with a funky detail – like rounded corners – to make the note pop a bit more. In a more creative industry, have some fun with it.

Do your best to get thank you notes in the mail within 24 hours. Sometimes life happens and it takes a bit longer. Sometimes you just miss the boat entirely; if a thank you isn’t mailed out by the end of the business week, just let it go.

One last thing: thank you notes are also a good gauge of your interest. I know how interested I am in a job based on how easy it is to write a thank you note. If I just can’t come up with anything compelling to connect me to the work, it’s not going to be a good fit. In some cases, I intentionally don’t write the thank you because I really want to let that opportunity pass.