Posts Tagged With: travel

Cubelife Chronicles: Pirate’s Pro-Tips for Success

It’s just about the time for my annual review so I’ve been reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses lately. Most of what’s kept me afloat through my working life (and through our recently challenging economy) haven’t been a high-powered degree, a blazing intellect, or insider connections; it’s been a few simple things. Whether you’re in school and wondering how you’ll make your way in the world or looking for a change, let me extend these small bits of wisdom.

 

1. Learn a foreign language

I finished university in 2007, my senior paper on the developing perception of self in the Middle Ages, specifically as seen through the treatment of death and violence in the evolving short narrative form.

 

Do you want fries with that?

 

Actually, I had several job offers right away that summer that were at a living wage. In fact, I was getting offered pay premiums. Why? I spoke a foreign language. Yes, these were call center jobs in the suburbs and far from glamorous. However, I didn’t have any insecurity about whether or not I could find or keep a job, even when the economy crashed that fall. Not only that, I could afford to only work ONE job for the first time in my adult life.

Since then, I’ve had a much easier time finding employment and advancing my career simply because I speak at least one foreign language. It doesn’t have to be French or Spanish (although if you have to choose between the two, take French. Trust me.), but you should practice it every day and get to know the cultures where the language is used. New worlds will open up to you, both in your personal and your work life. Speaking a second language is invaluable.

 

Think of all the street art you'll finally understand!

Think of all the street art you’ll finally understand!

 

2. Be able to apply math to the world around you

Everyone groans in school about how useful math really is and scoffs about “when will we ever use this?” We were only half right when we professed that we’d never use algebra in real life, since your boss or a customer is not likely to hand you a quadratic equation to solve. The word problems, though… those are everywhere. Being able to handle basic applied mathematics makes you the person your coworkers go to for insight. Hate your job and want to move? Learn how to solve word problems.

 

If you’re in customer service, even retail, there are so many everyday tasks that require intermediate math skills.

  • Customers trying to work within a budget is an algebra word problem.
  • Trying to figure out how many of something will fit in a certain space is geometry, whether it’s stocking shelves, packing a shipment, or helping a customer choose a product.
  • Registers will break, so it’s good to know how to figure out something correctly on a calculator.
  • When it comes time to your own performance evaluation you should be able to have a rough idea if your metrics are being calculated accurately – are you handling calls or selling items at the rate your company is claiming?

 

My job technically has nothing to do with math. My job is to manage the performance of customer service teams, and our company has reporting teams and tools that give us reporting for us to be able to manage performance. However, being able to take one of the bosses’ problem statements and give them analysis of the metrics has made me near-invaluable. While it might sometimes be frustrating to always be running numbers and explaining the methodology to others, it’s a feather in my cap that helps me stand out and stay valuable.

I couldn’t tell you how helpful it would be if more of the people I’ve worked with throughout my career could do more math, or at least learn the applied math I’m describing. It’s the algebra and geometry we learned in high school basically, not any of the fancy statistics and standard deviation. If there were more people to share these projects with, not only would I have been happier but our projects may have even been more successful and provided greater insight. HELP ME HERE, PEOPLE.

 

3. Travel on your own at least once

I don’t mean disappear in Thailand on your own for three months, although if you want to do that sort of thing go right ahead. Whether it’s a camping trip in the next county or a full-fledged trans-continental or international flight, being able to travel on your own  demands the self-reliance, risk assessment and planning skills that are vital in life. How will you cope with unexpected changes in timeline? Will you be able to entertain yourself? What new things will you learn?

Traveling on your own imparts a kind of self-confidence that is difficult to tear down. Going from Point A to Point B will always have unexpected challenges, from a schedule change to a flat tire, a missed bus, or figuring out exchange rates and navigating new cultural phenomena. In these scenarios you’re forced to problem solve, and sometimes you’ll have to decide whether or not to ask for help and then how to do so.

 

Then if you end up in a job that requires travel you’ll already be at least a little bit prepared. That never hurts.

 

 

Whoops, I should have turned left!

The English need to learn from the French how to riot…

 

Whether it’s drinking with strangers in a new city, negotiating with long-hauling taxi drivers, or suddenly finding oneself in the middle of a riot, you learn what you’re capable of and how you handle difficult situations in strange surroundings. While these aren’t always pleasant stories, being able to say you survived it and learned a valuable lesson goes a long way towards knowing you can handle anything. You learn what you didn’t know in a visceral way.

 

4. Have a hobby that involves teamwork and deadlines

This comes straight from my own list of weaknesses. Often in high school and university I would either go off on my own and finish a project because I didn’t want to “deal with” people who weren’t as sharp with the subject, or else I took charge and did the whole thing on my own because the team didn’t know the material as well. As a result I’ve learned to do and enjoy a lot of things on my own; however, it’s been a bit of a struggle to work in team environments and, yes, deal with helping the team learn the parts that I know better than they do.

As such I’m not good with deadlines, either. When it was just myself I didn’t mind taking a lower grade because things were late, and I didn’t learn enough of the self discipline to complete tasks before they’re due and give others time to collaborate. Teachers would always say that not doing your work doesn’t fly in the real world and – shock – they’re right! Sometimes I still practice my “coast until the night before” tactic but I wish I didn’t. It’s a tough habit to break, and I wish I’d learned to jump in line with deadlines much earlier in life.

 

Even Spider-Man plays on a team

Even Spider-Man plays on a team

 

There’s more to life than work, and most of these tips will help you find more enjoyment in life. Except maybe the math, unless you’re a nerd like me. We’re capable of more than we know: all it takes is a little bit of risk to grow.

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My Smartass 15 Year Old Self Wasn’t That Far Off…

Teenagers say crazy things and make terrible decisions, don’t they? With unrealistic expectations of the world and themselves, many are lucky to make it into adulthood with any sense of direction or purpose. I was especially naïve, sheltered from the world and unaware of my own capabilities. Luckily that lack of perspective led me to a pretty wild dream that’s kind of transforming my life as I realize it.

Daydreaming with fellow smartass coworkers one afternoon at the local burger joint, I boasted that I’d speak 7 languages as an adult and be a superstar international businesswoman. French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, German, Chinese, and Portuguese, if you’re curious. Now I’ve always had a knack for languages, but I had no idea it was possible to travel and speak French for a living since my career didn’t even exist in the early days of the internet. There were plenty of things I loved growing up, but as much as I loved math, biology, and the dozen instruments I played in band I couldn’t see myself pursuing any of those as a career. So, I studied French in college and focused on finding a job that would pay the bills until I figured out how to follow my passion of speaking French.

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Fast forward to the present. No, I’m not a mogul, but I work for a European travel company and get to go spend time with our teams in a dozen countries. Fluent in French, I also get by with Spanish and spend more time with Portuguese, German, and Norwegian than I ever imagined. When I went to Italy I was able to read/understand about 80% of the signs, and since we work with the 3 major Nordic countries I’m often sifting through Swedish and Danish right alongside Norwegian. It’s only too bad the Latin I studied in college doesn’t get much opportunity to be used.

That afternoon in 1999 I picked Portuguese on a whim, trying to impress and out-do my friends. This was years before the birth and explosion of Orkut where we realized how many Brazilians there are online! I had no idea I’d spend 3 months living in Portugal.

Faro, Portugal

Faro, Portugal

I tried Arabic in college during Linguistics courses and frankly it’s totally lost on me. I traded French lessons for Russian lessons in college, but the learning was so slow going that my tutor and I gave up. Chinese never happened. It turns out that French has done more for me than I’d ever imagined, and being able to add German and Portuguese to my arsenal have opened more doors than I knew existed. Russian would also be helpful, but if I’m honest I just don’t have the time. For now.

I’ve always said that being able to speak Spanish is what kept me employed throughout school, but being fluent in French is what unlocked my current career path and has been a springboard to my professional success and happiness. Spanish never really grew on me, but relying on it for work is probably what kept that forgotten fire burning. Every time I remember my parents telling me not to study French in school because nobody speaks it, I look at my annual review and the stamps in my passport.

mylifein10years

What other dreams did we have as teens and young adults that could also unlock our passions and drive us to happiness?

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Professional Adventurer!

In exactly two weeks an 12 hours I’ll be heading out to the airport for a work-required week in Europe. I have the luxury of landing on a Sunday and getting to take an extra day at the end to do some sight-seeing, and the rest of the time I will be shuttling between offices located in different countries.

It’s a hard life. I know.

The Houses of Parliament

Work’s challenging, but it’s the rest of it that’s driving me the kind of crazy my friend Amanda reserves only for her mother.  My job is kind of demanding but actually incredibly rewarding, so I can’t complain and am really interested in keeping it.  I noticed yesterday that some of the stress at home has been taking a toll on me mentally, diminishing my ability to pay attention to detail.  If that weren’t one of the key requirements for my position I wouldn’t freak out too much.

To put myself in a good humor yesterday I started looking at weekend getaways, either to stay with friends across the US or to take a road trip in my new(ish) car.  Yesterday evening the tension culminated in an atomic blow-out from the Girl Cookie so I made the decision that time to unwind is absolutely necessary.  Yes – even though I have a European Mini-Tour scheduled for two weeks from tomorrow morning.

The Fairmont Dallas. Best poolside waiters ever.

This time tomorrow I will be stretched out in a bikini on the beach (or just at my hotel pool) reading a book and having a drink.  Maybe I’ll hole up in the hotel room and play video games all night! Regardless, I’m going to be cherishing quality alone time without kids, pets, boyfriends, and any other responsibilities whatsoever.

Life doesn’t have to be hard 🙂

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