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A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he’s worth something. And if I know for sure that I’m a genius? Why write then? What the hell for? – Writer

Dear White People

You might think it’s 1950 with how often the issue of race has come up in the news and media. I have been waiting for Dear White People to come to Netflix and this weekend I was happily surprised to find it showcased in my suggestions. I am always curious to hear the perspectives of society from a new and different angle so this film was a treat.

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood where one or two minorities became race-ambassadors for the whole school. It wasn’t until college where I started to meet a more diverse group of people. I learned a lot from all of them, but sometimes talking about intimate issues like race or religion discrimination just didn’t seem appropriate since I was so far removed. It’s why I feel a bit more comfortable with these issues being explored in the one-way communication of art.

Dear White People did not disappoint. I hate spoilers so I won’t go into any great detail, but I will say that the movie did a fantastic job of depicting the grey nature of these complex issues. The film didn’t out-right attack white people, instead it took the more persuasive route by showing realistic scenario after scenario where race was the prime reason for conflict. In this was blame was not necessarily shouldered exclusively by the white characters.

One of the most interesting things I noticed was a theme in which black characters where forced into stereotypes because their options to be themselves hindered their ability to reach their goals. Honestly, while it was funny and entertaining, this movie at it’s core brought up some troubling and difficult social issues. It’s certainly worth watching and you have no excuse since it’s on Netflix!

My conscience wants vegetarianism to win over the world. And my subconscious is yearning for a piece of juicy meat. But what do I want? – Writer

Highlights from Good to Great

This book has been floating around my “must read” lists for years now. Finding a copy available at my favorite library was just enough to sway me to reading it. The book itself is short so I’m not sure if summarizing it in a review would do anyone any good. Instead I’ve decided to pull out a few things that resonated with me.

The Bus Analogy 

I’ve heard this one time and time again. The advice being that you have to know WHO is on the bus before you can decide WHERE the bus is going. I’ve had trouble with this one. To some extent I’ve seen this play out well and I’ve certainly considered it when hiring people. It does make me wonder though, does this advice get abused? I’ve seen nepotism play out at more than one company, and I know of plenty of jobs where someone was hired without an interview because they were trusted in some way. I’ve seen people who at first glance, are terrible hires, yet they turn into fantastic employees. Who can say that how you know someone personally will carry over to their work professionally?

Great Individuals vs Great Companies

This was an interesting topic to me because one of the things I started to dislike about myself as I moved up the corporate ladder in previous jobs was my growing ego. It made me reflect on my career so far and realize that when I was able to put my ego aside I made my biggest advancements. These usually came first for the company then followed by personal success. In western culture the idea of a great person is idolized, but deep down it’s a great team that makes long-term success. And this point plays into the next bit…

Hiring Outside Talent vs Promoting From Within

I had always had a gut feeling that promoting from within was the best way to have good leaders in a company. For someone to remain with a company for years it shows an immense sense of loyalty and respect. This is certainly the kind of person who has put their ego aside for the greater good. Additionally, they know the company, how it works, how to get things done, and they have the interpersonal connections to motivate their coworkers. It was no surprise to me that Jim Collins’ data showed that promoting leadership from within a company lead to great companies more than hiring outside talent.

Obviously, there is a lot more to the book than what I have mentioned here. As with any good business book you can only absorb just so many pointers per reading. Being that this was such a short book, I expect I’ll be revisiting it again every year or so to check back in with how I am moving myself from good to great.

Let everything that’s been planned come true. Let them believe. And let them have a laugh at their passions. Because what they call passion actually is not some emotional energy, but just the friction between their souls and the outside world. -Stalker

The Silicon Valley Work Culture and Millennials

Hundreds of articles and first person accounts have been written on the work life balance (or lack there of) in the Silicon Valley culture. We are familiar with leaders being revered as gods, people missing out on their family, and companies filling the basic needs of workers as compensation for their dedication. My question is how long will Millennials buy into these corporate cults?

(Wait, you don’t think these are “corporate cults?” Let’s quickly look at the characteristics of a  cult for kicks and giggles…)

  • The group has a zealous and unquestioning commitment to it’s leader (Steve Jobs or Elon Musk perhaps?)
  • People who question or doubt the organization are discouraged from the group or ostracized (Ever been told you weren’t a “cultural fit” for a job? You must at least be familiar with Amazon’s policy where they pay people to leave if they don’t LOVE it there.)
  • Mind-altering practices are used to reinforce beliefs in exiting members and break in new members (Facebook Hack-a-Thons)
  • The group has an us-vs-them outlook on society (This must be why Uber feel’s they don’t need to obey state laws and regulations even though in doing so their own customers have been hurt)
  • Shame and guilt are used to influence members to participate (Because “We are a TEAM”)
  • Workers are encouraged to socialize with other members (Those outside-of-work mandatory activities are looking less-fun)
  • The most loyal members feel like there is no real life outside the cult (What I started out writing in this post, so let’s get back to that)

The assumption made about Millennials is that they loving being taken care of. They would choose to shirk their adult responsibilities and remain children forever and this kind of culture let’s them do just that. So what could they be unhappy about? Well, becoming disengaged with the company they work will easily snap them out of this fantasy. It could be a bad boss, a discontent spouse, or even a disagreement with a new company direction. Millennials are an opinionated bunch. The problem is that once they decide they don’t like something about work they have to make a huge change in their life to leave. Your place of employment is no longer a module in life that can easily be swapped out.

My assumption is that as the Millennials hit their mid to late thirties they will have some conflict with The Hand That Feeds Them. The question then becomes what’s next and will they be prepared for it. Will they have formed the meaningful connections with other professionals that will allow them to jump ship? Maybe they will have to learn how to pack lunches to replace a company cafeteria. It’s scary to me that people as a whole strive to let someone else take care of them so they can work more.

The advice I would give to anyone in this situation is to enjoy the social and economical benefits afforded by their job. At the same time, continue to educate yourself and connect with other communities outside of the office. Too many people get trapped in a narrow hall with no doors. You don’t want to be one of them!

On Trust, Friends, and Teachers

This weekend I spent some time with friends whom I haven’t see much the past few years. We have started to reconnect and it’s good to have them back in my life. I’m happy they are all healthy and doing well and truly enjoy hearing about where life has taken them since we last were close. As we would talk memories bubbled up good and bad. Some were confessions of guilt, while others were simply the reminiscing of childhood memories.

We were around the campfire drinking wine and enjoying the evening when the topic of our language teachers came up. Most of us had taken German and a few Spanish. I felt compelled to share, for whatever reason, an awkward and uncomfortable moment that I had with one of the German teachers. For me, the day it happened I felt a mix of shame, embarrassment, and trauma. I didn’t mention it to anyone for a long time. After I was finished explaining what happened a few women confirmed, “I could see that” or “doesn’t surprise me.” Yet one comment stung and has troubled me.

“I don’t believe it.”

It wasn’t said in the way you would respond to seeing a magic trick, it was said as if I had told them third-hand gossip. Would someone really think I would lie to disparage a teacher I used to have? What motive would I even have for doing something like that?

While the event that I told my friends about was of minor significance to all the awful things that can happen in a person’s life, it did leave a scaring impact on me. I was a predominantly reserved student and any socialization that wasn’t portrayed in cartoons or kids shows I wasn’t at all prepared to deal with. I had complete faith and trust in teachers, especially those that my peers likewise trusted, so to have one of these teacher’s break that trust was frustrating.

To hear the word’s “I don’t believe it” brought all of that frustration back because what I heard was, “I don’t believe you.”

No wonder women are prone to hiding abuse, harassment, and neglect. Are there people who really see the world as black and white like this? Obviously my friend knew both parties and decided that in knowing me less than this teacher, I must be wrong. I never said the teacher was a terrible person, nor did I display any anger or resentment. I wan’t asking people to ruin their existing relationships with this teacher to jump “sides” yet, a friend felt I was spinning a story.

I love people, but sometimes I really don’t think I understand them.

Weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win. – Stalker

Evangola State Park

I’ve been living in New York for over 25 years now yet I continue to be surprised by the beautiful parks we have. This weekend I spent some time at the Evangola State Park for a car show.

The WNY Mopar group organized the show as part of the tomato festival and it was a great day for it. Cars showed up all the way from Canada! They had food vendors, live entertainment, and of course the beauty of the beach.

The park was expansive and had playgrounds, sports fields, and did I mention the beach? I grew up outside of Buffalo and always considered Lake Erie to be a second-rate waterfront, but where the Evangola State Park sits it’s absolutely beautiful. Pets weren’t aloud on the beach, but dog owners were taking advantage of the paths around the park for sure. They had multiple lifeguards on duty as well as a number of nature walks throughout the day.

There were a few other things that I noticed which were unique about this park, but the most impressive thing was the snowmobile trails. In rural settings snowmobilers will occasionally trespass on other people’s property because they don’t have land of their own to ride on. This creates a lot of tension between land owners and riders because if the riders get hurt the liability falls on the land owner. Even if the rider never had permission to be on the land! So the fact that this park has a beautifully built and maintained trail for snowmobiles was impressive and a great asset for the community. The rest of the year it also makes a very nice hiking or running path. An ultimate win-win.

I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more and I’ll certainly be back before the year is over.

You know what’s great about the internet? You can make a name for yourself pretty much anywhere in the world! Christina Calph grew up not far from where I did and it’s great to see yet another fellow Western NY’er achieving success. If you follow Stan Lee’s blog you may have already seen this, but I think it’s worth sharing.

What I like about Burp Girl:

  • Burp girl seems to be the start of a great (dare I say feminist friendly) main character. She is not your typical over-sexualized female comic character
  • Christina Calph is a good actor. You can tell she cares about this project and is working hard to see it succeed.
  • Some great writing was done for this. It’s not a particularly long script, but it’s humorous.
  • The costumes and sets stay true to a comic book aesthetic which is pretty cool.

What I hope to see improved:

  • Some of the supporting cast seem to be less dedicated to their roles. Hopefully they can boost their confidence and energy in future episodes.
  • The editing could be better utilized to “speed up” the storytelling. Just a few quicker cuts would help.

All-in-all it will be interesting to see how this project unfolds!

Why GMO’s are Good, Safe, and Delicious

Over the years there has been a lot of debate about what is healthy and what we should be eating. Now more than ever, we have access to this information making us responsive consumers. However, it’s possible that with an increased access to information, we focus on teaching people how to navigate content more than we teach them how to qualify it. Either way, some innocent bystanders got dragged into the issue of “healthy food,” and among them are GMOs.

If you’re unfamiliar, GMO’s are organisms, in this case crops, which have been modified by genetic engineering techniques. The goal of this practice is to create crops that are more resilient or efficient for the food supply. This may come as a surprise to some, but we have been doing this long before companies like Monsanto came along. Of course, it used to be called plant breeding and people did it in their backyards by cross pollinating varieties of a fruit, vegetable, or whatever else they wanted. That method of altering plants was less frightening because it left room for error and it wasn’t done in a lab. However, the results are very much the same.

Fighting GMO’s is fighting against the environment. It’s counter to everything people who want to support the Organic Movement say they represent! The fact is GMO’s require less of everything. You can modify plants to use less water or nutrients from the soil with an end goal to produce the same amount or more food. Why wouldn’t you want to conserve those resources? Maybe you need something more immediately impactful to understand though. How about pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizer? Most people don’t like those. We can use LESS of all of them if we modify the plants to be more resilient. Isn’t that something you would be in favor of?

Now, I’m not saying everything about GMO’s are great. If you really want to get upset about something related to GMO’s you’ll get upset with the companies that develop them and their business practices toward the farmers. That’s worth getting worked up over! In conclusion, there are real health threats to your health and the environment out there, but GMO’s aren’t one of them.

Why Target Making Gender Neutral Kids Clothes is Smart

I know some people saw this in the news recently and cringed while others praised their forward thinking. Everyone has been focused on what this means from a societal view, and how this will impact the delicate psyche of children, but let’s be honest for a moment. This gamble should end up making more money, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what we really care about?

The retail business is tricky. You have to be thinking one step ahead because shopping just isn’t like it was 25 years ago. The first and most obvious reason this is a success for Target is they are in the news. It’s a reminder to people that yes, Target sells clothes. It also reinforces their brand identity that thrives on social equality. So right there, we already have some good benefits from their decision to eliminate gender specific children’s clothing.

Do you remember clothing shopping for school as a kid? When you were very small you probably grabbed shirts with prints that looked happy or had characters you recognized on them. Most fashion decisions were made for you by a parent or older sibling. At some age though, you probably started to wonder, “does this make me look ‘cool.'”

As I got older not only did my desire to experiment with fashion change, but so did my perception of my family’s economic status. My mother urged me to buy from the Jr’s section as a cost savings measure.

Getting back to Target now, a gender neutral clothing section will likely push children out of the children’s clothing section earlier. Either through puberty or desire to adopt a fashion trend, more children will end up shopping in the more expensive adult clothing section.

Of course, there is one final benefit to Target from this decision. They should be able to reduce the amount of bad press from their printed shirts. I think the most recent was a line of shirts for females with print like, “Trophy” on them. You can’t claim gender bias if all the clothes are in a gender neutral section!

Anyway, regardless of how you feel about this topic socially, it does seem to be a good business decision for this retailer.

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