My New Curriculum

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So, we are going to stop teaching cursive handwriting in public school. In New York, we are not going to require a literacy test for teachers, because it’s racist. We don’t teach Civics anymore, so students become adults that don’t really understand how government works. No Home Economics, No Shop Class… Sexist, and besides, who needs to cook or make stuff?

 
I’m not saying that everything was perfect with the education we got in high school in the seventies, but what are we replacing these courses with? Are we improving the courses that are offered? Or are we just removing stuff that might offend people?

 
Well, I’ve got some ideas about courses that should be offered front and center for kids. I haven’t decided whether we should wait until high school for some of these topics, but it’s a start.

 
1. Time Management
How useful would it be to teach kids this life skill? You need this training, whether you’re college bound, or entering the work force. Some people don’t get the whole “come to work on time” thing. I’m much better at time management than I used to be. But imagine what a star I would be if I had time management training in high school. I would have used that every day, unlike those advanced math classes.

 
2. Personal Finance
This class should run for at least two semesters, because… bullet points

 
• Saving and Investing
• How to Buy a Car
• Managing Your Credit Score
• Renting vs Buying a Home
• How to Start a Business
• Building a Budget
• Taxes

 
I wish I learned all this in high school, as opposed to the school of hard knocks.

 
3. Civility
If we can’t have Civics, can we have Civility? If you don’t understand the government, can you be polite about it? If you do have an understanding of how government works, can you be gracious? If you don’t understand the constitution, can you quit going on about “your” free speech, while denying other people a voice? Yes, we should either bring back Civics, or substitute Civility. Maybe half and half.

 
4. Coping Skills
Ok, this one’s a little vague. You know, what to do when you like someone but they don’t like you back. How to cope with disappointment when you don’t get selected for the team, or the job. It’s okay to be less than 100% all the time. How to replace negativity with positive self-talk. What to do if someone is picking on you, or bullying you. How do you break up with someone without breaking their heart?

 
5. Writing
This is a double-edged sword for me. As a writer, I don’t want the market to go away. On the other hand, people need to know how to write. I guess it’s possible that we can get AI to write for us once the skill has disappeared completely.

 
So, there are my top five recommendations for improved curriculum. I’d love to know if you have any suggestions. What would you like to see added to the curriculum?

 
– Cat

Balancing Creativity with Practicality or… How I Got My Groove Back!

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As a writer, there is one thing I have to do without fail… write! As I gain experience, I am meeting a lot of aspiring writers that don’t sit down and write. They talk about writing, take courses about writing, ask for advice on getting clients to buy their writing.
I haven’t been in the game long enough to consider myself an expert. That’s why I was flattered recently, when I had one would-be writer ask me to coach them. I said I would look at their work. They replied that they were just getting started and hadn’t written anything. I have to admit, that one stumped me.
So, now I make my living as a writer. Writing is no longer my hobby, it’s my job. It’s my only job. I will make it or break it on my own efforts. I’m learning a lot about the creative process, because I have to pay attention to those things now. I am also learning a great deal about a lot of topics, because I never know what I will be researching and writing about. It’s a lot of intellectual stimulation, but I like to think I’m up to the job.
I write every day. Sometimes I write all day. But, I rarely write for myself these days. I love writing for my clients, but I am hereby, right now… renewing my commitment to my blog. It doesn’t matter if you read it or not. I’m writing it. I’m surprised at the people who ask me about it, or tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. It’s difficult to know sometimes if you have any readers.
I’m going to assume that you’re reading, and I’m going to write. My father, who is 83 years old and lives nine hours away, checks his computer to catch up with me through my blog. My Mom and Stepdad take my temperature through my blog, and they have a chuckle as I recount some family stories. I’m not sure why I slowed down. But, just to warn you… I’m back!
-Cat

Working Without a Net

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As many of you know, I’ve been wearing two hats in my work life since the first of the year.  By day, I’ve been working for a large corporation.  In the evenings, and on my days off, I’ve been pursuing my passion as a writer.  I’ve built my business to the extent that time allowed.
The full-time job that I’ve worked at for almost 11 years ended today when my position was eliminated.  I was one of many that were affected.  I’m a firm believer that everything always works out the way it’s supposed to.  I’ve been through some stuff in my life that wasn’t fun and didn’t feel good.  But, I’ve always seemed to make a comeback.  That whole phoenix thing.
So… I now have more time to promote and work my business.  50 hours a week more.  I called this blog “Working Without a Net” because that’s how it feels.  Exhilarating and scary in equal parts.  There are a lot of things I couldn’t do to grow and work my business.  Now I will.
I’ve met a lot of good people at my job, and will keep a lot of friends in my new life.  I’ve learned so much in the past 10 years, and the experience has helped prepare me for this moment.
I don’t have any hard feelings.  I’m feeling bad tonight for all the people who depended on their job to house and feed their family.  It’s a shame that this had to happen today.
It’s amazing how your life can change in one day…
– Cat

 

Considering Corporate Culture

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I was putting my thoughts together for this article, and I thought I would do some field research.  I asked someone for one word that came to mind when they think about “Corporate Culture”.  Their one word was “integrity”.  I thought that was encouraging, and went on to ask the next person.  Their one word was “corruption”.  Hmmm.  I stopped there.  Granted, I could have included some more research. But I think that the first two answers gave me an indication of the scope of attitudes towards “Corporate Culture”.

So, is the use of the word “culture” a rhetorical device, or does it have actual meaning in the business world?  Nobody would feel comfortable saying that their company really doesn’t focus on culture.  Everyone wants to think that it’s a very big deal in the workplace.

Corporate Culture is based on a set of common “core values”.  These may be expressed in the company’s mission statement, which is given as a handout to new hires.  How much actual time in management meetings is spent talking about core values on an ongoing basis?  Isn’t it more likely that the conversation turns to shareholder value? 

Values clarification exercises are critical to personal self-improvement. This is the process through which core values are identified and used as a guide to behavior and actions.  They must be revisited from time to time, and adjusted as necessary.   I just can’t picture executives sitting in the boardroom discussing values clarification.  They are more likely discussing ways to increase growth and revenue.  That’s not a problem.  It’s the way business works.

Another facet of Corporate Culture is shared attitudes and beliefs. How do we come together on beliefs and encourage diversity all at the same time?  I understand that this means corporate beliefs and not personal beliefs.  I know that in the business boat we all have to row together to get anywhere.  I’m just saying that in this climate, we can’t count on people to separate personal from professional.  People don’t want to set aside their differences.  They will cling to their uniqueness, even if it means that they’re not as “successful”.

And… do we profit (pun intended) if we all think and act alike?  Does that get us to the goal faster?  Consider that it takes all kinds of people working together to really make a dynamic difference!  Yes, we all have to move towards the goal.  Are there different ways to get there? Is there a benefit to taking the proverbial road less traveled?  Does somebody know a shortcut?  Or is the direct route best?

Enter the “team builder”!  Team builders are always fun, and help you learn something about other people on your team.  I think that they are beneficial to the team, and they keep meetings from being boring. They may be quick exercises, off site days, or even corporate getaways. They can be invigorating, and help employees approach work with a renewed gusto.  Team builders are touted as one of the best ways to build culture.  They’re awesome, but do they increase focus on core values?

Communication is key to building culture within an organization.  If you can go a step beyond that, and actually connect with people on a human level… even better!  Listening to people increases their feelings of self-worth.  It’s natural that your team will perform better, together and as individuals, if they feel valued.  As a leader, if you want to teach empathy to your team, be empathetic.

Culture makes a difference to every aspect of a company.  It affects the hiring process, training, and employee retention.  It will affect the way your customer service initiatives are carried out.  It can determine the landscape of the work environment.  And… bonus!  It will affect your earnings.  Be a company for which people want to work.  Attract and keep quality employees by considering, reviewing, and living your culture everyday.

–  Cat

Networking

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I attended an event at the local chamber of commerce today.  It was about networking and it made me think of the importance of good old face to face meetings… remember them?

I know that we’re supposed to use all this technology we have at hand, and I have to admit that it’s great. Social media, blogging, websites, webinars… all good stuff.  But, there’s a lot to be said for getting to know someone’s handshake.  It’s kinda cool to see their facial expressions.  To laugh together at something funny, as opposed to typing “lol”, or my favorite “Hahaha”.

So, there is a ton of information out there about networking.  The presentation I went to today was very informative and enjoyable.  I was, of course, networking at the networking presentation.  lol

Years ago, I was reading about networking, and I loved this piece of advice.  Don’t network by talking about yourself.  Network by listening and asking questions.  The premise is… If you’re interested in other people, they will find you interesting.  That is, ask them about their business.  Follow up with a question about what they just told you, or a general business question.

I’ve found this to be true, for the most part.  Of course, you want to answer questions, but focus on listening.  Yes, your elevator speech is important.  But not as important as using your active listening skills when they are giving you their elevator speech.  After all, you already know about yourself.

Something I picked up today that I thought was great.  When you’re at a networking event, you might be feeling weird about talking to people you don’t know. Notice the person that’s off to the side, feeling awkward like you, and talk to them.  You’ll both feel relieved, and you won’t have to worry about interrupting a conversation.

Think of ways to be a matchmaker with people who you meet. Introduce them to each other.  Consider strategic pairings… power partners.  Once you’ve met people who can complement each other’s businesses, put them in touch.

How do you feel about networking in person?  Is it a thing of the past, or does it still have value in today’s business environment?

-Cat

The Lost Art of Customer Service

When I was considering my blog topic for tonight, I thought that I should write about something more personal.  The thing is… I take customer service very personally.  These days, you can buy or sell anything on-line.  They are converting to order taking robots at McDonald’s.  I saw a vending machine with iPads and iPhones in it.  Is customer service dead?  Are we programmed not to care about our buying experience anymore?

I spoke with my prescription drug company recently.  I had a credit card on file with them.   They could charge whatever medication they sent out, rather than sending invoices to pay.  So, my credit card was compromised, and had to be replaced.  When I saw that I had a balance with them, I called their customer service to straighten it out.  Of course, I get the automated menu.  I’ve learned what to say when they ask you to state why you are calling.  I just say “customer service” repeatedly, and it gets you to a human faster.  Bottom line… you have to trick a machine in order to speak with someone.

I told the representative about my card.  I let them know that I was calling to pay my balance and add the new card for future payments.  He says “Okay, I’m going to try to add that card.  Usually, it doesn’t let you change cards if you have a balance.”  I asked him “Well, how will I pay my balance if you won’t take my new card information?”  That stumped him for a minute, and he put me on hold so he could speak with his supervisor.  Then he came back on the line, and the two of them had decided that they would work it out for me.  Wow!  I’m pleased to report that all is well now, but what a cluster!

I had a beautiful online experience recently with a company called Brighton.  I purchased a lanyard from them that I really loved.

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So, when it arrived, ahead of the expected time, it was in a box, with a heart shape cut into it… beautifully done.  I opened the box, and it was wrapped in two shades of tissue, and tied up with a gorgeous bow.  When I opened the ribbon, there was a card enclosed.  It had my first name on it, thanking me for my purchase and sending me good wishes.  It was hand signed by someone.  Classy!  I would buy from them again in a heartbeat.  Why? Because I felt appreciated as a customer.

This is the thing that’s hard for machines to do.  They really can’t express gratitude for your business.  They can’t help…  they can just refer you to another source, usually a website.  If I wanted to talk to your website, I would have logged in.  There’s a reason I called you instead.

In this world, your business can stand out by delivering a great experience.  If people didn’t notice in the past, they do now.  It almost takes you by surprise when someone is pleasant in their work these days.  I look for those places to do business with.  It’s proven that people will travel farther, and pay more, for the experience.

What are we thinking?

-Cat

Side Hustle

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That’s what Urban Dictionary calls it.  Your part-time job, alternate income stream, consulting, or in my case, freelancing.  What do you call what you do… aside from your “day job”?

A lot of people who I work with during the course of my day have something else that they do on the side.  These are people that make a good income, but want to develop something of their own.  We can be so creative, and the ideas that we have are so varied, that at times, they can support one another.

My passion is my freelance writing.  Most of the work I’ve been doing is in the B2B sector.  That means that my Side Hustle is to help your Side Hustle grow and prosper with business writing.  So many people have a fear of writing, or they know that it’s not their strength.

There is such a need now for business writing.  Do you have a website?  Of course you do!  How’s the content working for you?  How are you driving people to it?  Do your emails hit the mark?  What about your bio… or your direct mail campaign? Your social media marketing?  It can all be overwhelming, and to worry with all this stuff while you’re trying to do… what you are trying to do… can be too much.  It’s easy to get mired down with the details of it all.

Maybe you’ve managed to turn your passion into your “real job”.  If you’ve got that entrepreneurial spirit.  There’s nothing more rewarding than going to work everyday, doing what you love, in a business that you created.  Most people think that being a business owner means having a ton of money and spare time.  In most cases, I’d say nothing could be farther from the truth.

Owning a business, and developing it into a successful venture, is hard work.  My oldest son, and his wife, both have businesses. He builds custom furniture, and she’s a photographer.   My youngest son has a side hustle as well, working as a videographer and video editor.  My daughter in law bakes and decorates cakes on the side.  Like my writing, these jobs provide a creative outlet.  A little extra cash never hurts, either.

What’s your passion… your side hustle?

– Cat