The Cockroach Spelled Disaster

I should have known when I spotted the enormous cockroach on the wall that things would go all whack on Sunday.  The horrible creature was easily 6cm (just over 2 inches) long and it came creeping out from behind the TV stand in the hotel room.  Chico and I were up at 5:00am to leave our Miami hotel, drive our rental car to the airport, return the car and catch our flight home.  They say bad things happen in threes, but on Sunday, three bad things in a row led to a fourth, the consequences of which all led to a fifth bad thing.

Chico’s reaction was swift and merciless: he whacked that cockroach right off the wall with a rolled up magazine.  It lay on the floor, slowly expiring and cursing our day with its dying breath.  And boy, was it ever a powerful curse.  After the cockroach came problems with checking out of the hotel (bad thing #2).  Then the valet parking attendant with our car key disappeared for several minutes, making it impossible for us to even leave (bad thing #3).  By the time we left, we were running over half an hour late.

Now, both of us travel a lot.  I have been flying regularly since before I can remember, and never in my life have I EVER missed a flight. Perhaps for this reason the prospect of missing our plane seemed to be the most disastrous thing possible.  I went into full-fledged panic mode.  After making every wrong decision possible (bad thing #4), we finally deposited the rental car, sprinted to the metro rail, and ran through the terminal to our check-in desk where we were definitively informed that we had, indeed, missed our flight.  Bad thing #5, the supposed worst, had happened.

While we stood there trying to find a way home, all the “we should haves” came out.  We sure were able to think clearly in retrospect!  I have been in stressful situations before.  I’ve faced deadlines, decisions, uncomfortable situations, you name it!  That eustress (or “euphoric stress”) was always a positive driver.  But missing a flight must have been my boogeyman because I realized that I have never been so overwhelmed by stress in my life.  It was disturbing to think about how quickly any capacity for rational thought had evaporated.  It was doubly disturbing to think this stress was caused by something so inconsequential as missing a flight.  Sure, we had to pay for a new one-way ticket home, but the cost was entirely reasonable and no more than we would have spent on another night in Miami.

Photo 2013-02-11 18 22 14This distress was useless and counter-productive.  And really, when is stress ever anything but?  (Unless, perhaps, you’re being chased by a starving wolf pack in the frozen arctic, but that’s another kind of stress.)  I also remembered my post about failure and realized that missing this flight, though a kind of failure, really wasn’t all that horrible.  Everything in life can teach us a lesson, and the lesson to draw from this misadventure is that stressing out does not help anything.  It is a downwards spiral that can blow a relatively minor problem way out of proportion.  So I have decided that I will not let stress get the better of me like that again.  To help me, I am reading “The Mind Gym” (Sphere, 2007) and their chapter on stress management.

After all that, Sunday turned out to be our most fun day in Miami, and Chico and I were able to thoroughly relax and enjoy our visit.  You can read some of my reviews on TripAdvisor.

The Internet Never Forgets

I was chatting with a girlfriend the other day, and I told her how I periodically like to clean up my Facebook profile.  By “clean up” I mean remove older posts from my timeline and untag old photos.  Today, while I was creating a physical photo album of my wedding, I got to thinking about why exactly I feel the need to do this.  What makes photos and posts online different from a photo album on my shelf?

Here’s the big difference: The Internet remembers everything.  Once information is up there, it is very, very hard to take it down.  Photos are reproduced and saved elsewhere, status updates are shared, tweets are retweeted, and their reach grows exponentially.  (A recent example is of the kids who asked their dad for a puppy and were told they could get one if they got one million “likes” on Facebook.  Needless to say, they got the puppy.)

Hey, I never realized you could "like" this...
Hey, I never realized you could “like” this…

If  you don’t manage your Facebook timeline carefully, those posts, inane comments, shares and unflattering photos will populate it forever.  Unless you show some discretion (“having good judgement” or “being able to make responsible decisions”), comments, photos and the ugly details of a crazy evening out on the town could follow you online forever.  We have all heard stories of how dubious photos or thoughtless status updates have cost people their relationships or their jobs – let’s not even talk about what tweeting a photo of your crotch can do for your career!  Part of living in an online world is practicing online reputation management.  Companies and brands do it to monitor conversations about them online, but individuals need to become more aware of the importance of allowing ourselves (and the Internet) to forget about episodes in our past.

We all like to reminisce.  Sometimes we have memories that cause us pangs of embarrassment just to think of them.  Something we said to someone, a lie we were caught in, an outfit we wore (what was I THINKING?? – it’s okay, it was the 90s).  It is healthy to privately remember those moments and draw lessons from them for the future.  But why does a status update need to remind everyone who can see our Facebook timeline about it?  When you accept a friend request today, ask yourself if you really want that person whom you’ve most likely just met briefly at a dinner party to see the gory details of your college party days.  There is always the possibility of taking the time to carefully manage our groups of friends and limit who can see what, but in the end even those who lived through experiences with you might not necessarily want to be reminded of them every time they click “view friendship.”

But most importantly, we need to remember how the information we share on places like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram affects people other than ourselves.  Are you posting photos of yourself with friends or parents who aren’t on Facebook (yeah, I’m guilty)?  Are you tagging people in unflattering photos?  I have to admit to having gone through a Facebook phase in which I would post any and every photo I took, approve tags of all kinds of silly faces I made, and not think twice about posting a photo of myself with a friend or family member who isn’t on Facebook without asking permission.

It was my Chico who first challenged me to think more carefully about what kind of information I posted.  I have no right to invade his privacy by sharing with everyone the fact that he hilariously wore mis-matching socks this morning (that’s just an example – that has never happened.  That I know of.).  Then, working on this website and consolidating and managing my personal brand online made me even more conscious of that fact.  Doing a Google search of “the brain in jane” produced many surprising results that I hadn’t even realized would be visible publicly (nothing shocking, mind you, but that search was certainly informative).  That’s when it hit me that even information that is posted “privately” online and doesn’t show up in a Google search is still present in a public space.  The Internet is not, by any stretch of the imagination, private, no matter how strict your settings on social media.

So my challenge for everyone, including myself, is to think twice before posting.  Let’s ask ourselves, “How will someone else perceive this?  Will it hurt someone’s feelings or offend unnecessarily?  How will I feel about this when I read it in two weeks, two months or two years?”  But most importantly, let’s ask ourselves, “How will my kid feel when he’s a teenager and he sees all the poop-related status updates and baby photos I’ve posted of him through the years?”  How will he feel, indeed?

Thoughts on a Cover Letter

I have managed to thoroughly intimidate myself by spending the morning on the websites of some top Montreal advertising and communications agencies.  They have offices all around the world, they specialize in gathering people from all different disciplines to create their campaigns and they work with some of the largest and most integrated international brands.  These places are young, innovative, creative, chic, and highly successful.  They’re looking to employ the best.

How cool would it be to work in one of these agencies?  They seem ideal, but at the same time so utterly uncomfortable to me.

That’s right, I said uncomfortable.  Reading about some of their projects on their websites and watching videos about their work made me wonder how well I would fit in in these places.  I’m not hip, and I would not describe myself as cutting-edge, which is what the look, feel and presentation of these agencies scream to me.  Wouldn’t I feel awkwardly out of place?

The answer is that I might, but only if I let myself.  My tendency to self-doubt would manifest itself in doubts about my abilities, my experience, my creativity, my talents and not to mention my fashion choices.

And that’s when I remember just how amazing I am.

I-Am-Awesome

Bear with me.

I spent the first semester of my master’s program doubting my ability to achieve the results I wanted.  Hours were wasted on Skype with my poor, wonderful and patient mother, listening to me saying, “I can’t do this, Moooooom!”  But then, do you know what?  I did it.  And not only did I do it, I did it with distinction.  I organized myself and got down to the business of excelling so effectively that I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  When the results came in, I was thrilled to find myself among the top students in the program.  But I wasn’t surprised (and nor was anyone else).  I knew I had put the effort, time and thought in to get those grades, but it wasn’t until I saw the result that I discovered that I knew all along that I would get them.  So why on earth did I spend all that time worrying?

While I knew what I had to do to succeed, I still learned a lot along the way.  I learned to trust my abilities and my instincts and to follow my hunches.  I learned that following up on an off-hand interest can lead to being passionate and knowledgeable about a topic.  I learned that creativity isn’t just an innate gift, it is also a process.  Not everyone is born creative: we learn creativity by putting ourselves in situations that require it.  You learn to push your brain in different directions and think beyond the conventional to the seemingly impossible and/or absurd.  I learned that I am perfectly capable (and even GOOD) at doing just that.  In fact, I crave the opportunity to push myself.

So would working at an agency be stressful and uncomfortable?  Yes, it would!  Would I sometimes doubt myself and feel like I couldn’t deliver?  Probably.  And that’s why I need to work in such places.  Their emphasis on hard work, creative environments, team- and result-oriented cultures are exactly what I need.  I must, at all costs, avoid complacency.  When I’m constantly wondering IF I can do something is when I do things best, because I stay positive in the face of a challenge and I do not give up.  Working in a team where each member is expected to deliver to the best of his or her ability (and nothing less) is exactly what I need and where I belong.  Not only that, but I also have talents and a fresh, international perspective to contribute to an agency’s success.  I am capable, I am knowledgeable about social media, branding, communications and creativity.  I have applied myself to learn the technical aspects of my métier, as this blog shows.

These agencies may seem intimidating, but only if I forget how awesome I am.  I AM amazing, and I know it.  Sometimes I just need to remember to believe it.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I can write that cover letter.

It’s Incredibly Cold

A girlfriend who lived in Montreal for a couple of years warned me: “Les hivers sont extrêmement rudes.”  She wasn’t kidding.  Check it out:

Cold

For those of you who speak fahrenheit, that’s -9.4°F (and Mike Finnerty on CBC’s Daybreak just said the wind chill will make it -38°C!!).  Now, I don’t want to complain, but even CBC radio tells me that this kind of long, extremely cold stretch is unusual.  Normally it’s only about -16°C (3°F) during the day (pffff, tropical!).

In times like this, my instinct is to put the heat up as high as possible and stay bundled up inside.  But this is not the native Canadian approach, oh no!  There are people out there still biking to work (admittedly, even the locals think they’re nuts).  My short period of residence in Canada has taught me a few of the locals’ tricks:

  1. Window
    You can’t let sights like this get you down.

    Carry a big bag with an extra pair of shoes.  Wear your boots outside and change into your fancy-schmancy shoes indoors.  (And make sure your boots are easy to slip on and off – high lace-ups are NOT recommended.)

  2. Don’t let the cold intimidate you: go ice skating!  It sounds counter-intuitive, seeing as you’re surrounded by ice and cold, but the movement and constant fear of falling on your backside keep you warm.
  3. If you have a car, get a remote starter.  They are a gift from God.
  4. Memorize and make extensive use of the Montreal underground passages.  If you’re visiting or new in town and you want to learn about them, give this guy a call.
  5. Café hop!  My neighborhood, the Plateau Mont-Royal, is full of adorable cafés.  So if you’re not in a hurry to get from Sherbrooke to Mont-Royal on St. Denis street, you can hop back and forth across the road, going from La Petite Cuillère, to Café Universel, to Simplement D’Liche Cupcakes, up to Aux Deux Maries.  (Note: this technique might cause inordinate weight gain.)
  6. Wear lots of layers.  Because it’s so cold outside, indoor public spaces like the metro, supermarkets and others are overheated.  You need to be able to peel off layers so as not to suffocate yourself once inside.

On my own, I have come up with a couple of solutions: Fingerless gloves are wonderful for keeping warm while also being able to type.  Baking is wonderful for heating up the kitchen with the oven, and having a warmth-inducing hobby like crocheting helps tremendously.  How can you be cold when you have a blanket made of pure (and stinky) New Zealand sheep’s wool thrown over your knees?

Afghan
This took me over a year to finish.

Despite the cold outside, it is true that the chilliest days of the year are also the sunniest.  So while we’re all freezing our tootsies off, we can at least enjoy beautifully sunny days in this lovely (though harsh) city.