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Professionalism matters

I am surprised at how many people lack professional etiquette in the workforce. Too many unprofessional encounters have led me to believe it’s because people don’t quite understand what professionalism is. So, here goes:

1. Dress appropriately: There’s not much latitude when it comes to office attire in a regular cubicle environment. While niche offices (beauty salons, artist’s studio, etc.) might not have certain constraints, in most work-environments people are expected to dress professionally. So, no halter tops, no cleavage-showing, no micro mini skirts, no stockings with holes for women. No vests, no sweats, no clinging shirts, no bling for men. In short — you’re not there to party or express your personality. You’re there to work, so dress accordingly.

2. You are the organization: For an outsider you’re your organization’s ambassador. You’re the talking head. The representative. Keep that in mind when interacting with clients. What you say, do, or wear reflects on the organization you’re working for. If you don’t demonstrate pride in your work or respect for it, no one else will.

3. Accept critique: A lot of people take critique personally. Please don’t. If I were to cry every time  an editor told me I needed to write a second draft (Boo hoo! So, you’re saying the first draft wasn’t PERFECT!?!?!), I’d be drowning in a sea of my own tears. You’re there to learn, stretch your mind, expand upon your skills . Welcome critique with open arms. It’s only helping you grow — even if it isn’t helpful, it still teaches you patience! It doesn’t mean you suck; it’s just a way of telling you there is potential for something better. Embrace it.

4. Don’t socialize your day away: We spend more time at work than we do with our families any given weekday, so it’s natural to develop “friendships” in the workplace. But remember to keep social banter to a minimum. Your first priority is work and while everyone enjoys a bit of office gossip here and there, your water cooler conversations shouldn’t take over your day. Go for lunch or dinner with your office pals, grab a mug of beer or a cup of coffee outside office hours. Your office space wasn’t meant to be your personal living room. Also, remember that perception is reality — you may get all your deadlines met and be a top-notch worker, but if people know you for your rumor-milling or domestic-adventure stories more than your work ethic, there’s something wrong with that picture.

5. Beware of social media time sinks: Sure everyone’s on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buzz and all those other time sinks, but if it isn’t part of your job profile, you really shouldn’t be using your work time to update your status or send tweets by the minute. I’ve had people make clients wait just so they could finish posting their latest photos to Facebook. Nothing tells a client that you’re not serious about your work as peering over your shoulder to see the Facebook logo staring back.

6. Don’t whine all the time: Nobody likes a whiner. Period. Everyone has loads of stuff to do. Everyone is spread thin. Everyone has zero budget. We get it. It’s ok to vent once in a while, but if you’re always complaining all you’re doing is bringing everyone’s morale down. It’s bad enough to begin with — no one needs it slapped in their faces all the time. Also, if you’re whining all the time, it won’t take long for people to mutter under their breaths: “If it’s so bad, why don’t you leave?”

7. Watch how you speak and how you write: Wassup?  See ya later dawg! Dude, hurry up! — not exactly office speak. You’re a white-collar worker in a professional work environment — act the part. Also, watch that slang in your professional communication. While emoticons and CUL8Rs may be alright when chatting with your buddies, office e-mail requires a certain amount of “seriousness.” Typing full words and coherent sentences makes a difference.

8. Don’t tie your emotions with your job: Some people take everything you tell them personally. Your job is not you. You are not your job. Stop getting your emotions in the mix. Don’t be detached, but don’t be so invested in your job that if roadblocks occur, you experience a nervous breakdown. Be civil even if you don’t get along with someone.

9. Respect other people’s time: Never leave people waiting. When you show up late you’re telling folks that you don’t really care. It’s insulting. It’s disrespectful. Just as you have a gazillion things to do, so do they. If you absolutely can’t make it on time, it’s professional courtesy to call ahead and let the other person know you’re running behind. When you say you’ll be there, mean it.

10. Don’t be cocky: Remember, everyone is dispensable. And you’re not above this rule. So, do your job well. But don’t forget that the machine will carry on just as well without you. You may be great at what you do, but you’re not the only one. Be proud of who you are and what you do, but don’t go rubbing it in people’s faces. With talent, comes humility.

This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list. Just the “top 10” compilation, if you will, from my personal experiences with those snooty, self-absorbed nincompoops….eh…no need to be uncivil — let’s just say “those unprofessional people.”

Have more tips? Do share.

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Facebook: your personal recommendation engine

Facebook is more popular than Google. At least it was in the week ending March 13.

Even though it was a miniscule 0.4 percent increase over visits to the Internet search giant, it got a lot of tongues wagging.

From being a platform where people raise virtual animals and open up their lives, Facebook is fast becoming a forum to get personal recommendations.

A handful of my friends have connected their TripAdvisor and Yelp profiles to Facebook making their hotel stays and restaurant reviews available to their network. But most people I know are using their status updates to publish queries, especially when making travel plans.

Going to the Grand Canyon area — any recommendations on where to stay?

Visiting Idaho — what are some cool things to do besides visiting boh-ring lava fields ?

Is in Honolulu — where to get the best mai tais?

Instead of “googling” this information and relying on the collective wisdom of random strangers, these folks are tapping into their network — which, if it consists of friends and family with shared interests, would make it an unbeatable resource.

A goldmine of viable ideas.

The real value lies in getting suggestions from people you know. More important: these are people who know you and your interests.

You could be off to the theater district, eating the best local fare, and hanging out with surfer dudes if you ask the right folks. But be careful before you announce your plans on any social media network — if you really don’t want to reconnect with your former high school sweetheart in person (even though you “friended” her on Facebook because it was oh-so-harmless), make sure she isn’t on the list of people with access to your status updates.

Always follow the mantra: think before you post.

And create lists with variable access.

You could have one called “Close friends” who have access to everything — photos, notes, status updates, your wall. Another one called “Acquaintances” for people who can’t see your bikini shots but can read your status updates. A third called “Colleagues,” who have access to your wall but nothing else. And so on.

There are ways to tap into the potential of social networking while still maintaining your privacy. Use it wisely.

How do you use Facebook? Do you see it becoming your personal recommendation engine?

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True love

Love to some is like a cloud

To some as strong as steel

For some a way of living

For some a way to feel

Some say love is holding on

And some say let it go

While some say love is everything

Some say they don’t know…

Love — the one emotion that all of us experience at some point in our lives. An emotion which defies definition. An overwhelming all-encompassing joy that comes saddled with its share of sadness.

I remember having countless crushes while in school. Our neighbour’s son, my best friend’s brother, a cousin’s friend, our judo teacher … I fancied them for the colour of their eyes, their swagger, or just the way they combed their hair. Harmless “puppy loves” as ephemeral as soap bubbles.

I’d always heard that you won’t even know what hit you when you find the love of your life — the one person you want to spend time with day after day after day. And it was true.

It came at a time when I was mature enough to take on the responsibilities of a relationship which demands a lot of give and not so much of take. Love was the edifice I built on the foundation of friendship. It took time to blossom. It took a lot of understanding, loads of communication, and plenty of patience to become what it is today. 

Most importantly, love to us meant a meeting of minds. Still does.

It was notches above infatuations and what my mom likes to call “the pleasures of the flesh.”

Our parents’ generation was fed lavishly with ideals. Theirs was an era of constraints, restraints, respect, admiration, and oodles of romance. An age where the distance between the sexes somehow managed to help preserve the sanctity of an amorous relationship.

Our generation, with its openness and fading lines of proximity, jumped on to the bandwagon of love with a little more haste and defiance of “traditions.”

The next generation, I fear, is going further downhill — not quite able to distinguish between physical attraction and mental compatibility. Love seems synonymous with both. Exclusively, even.

I am amazed when I hear stories of school kids bragging about the number of physical relationships they have had. I am horrified to learn that girls barely seventeen have already been in and out of five to six “hook ups.” What about the emotional baggage these kids will carry with them?

The mindset of our “always-plugged-in” generation is all too evident in their tweets and Facebook status updates — publicly handling their personal life.

I see more and more focus on physical beauty, less and less regard for intellect. Closeness gets more importance than intimacy. There is more of passion and less of emotion. More of frivolous comradeship, less of true companionship. There is more acquiring and less sharing.

More of me, less of us.

Maybe I’m old school, but to me it seems like the essence of relationships has been forgotten.

There’s much more to being someone’s beau than gifting them red roses and Hallmark cards. What about gifting our time, our company, our support, our friendship…? What about setting priorities where our loved one comes first?

What about giving ourselves, and the ones we love, time and space to build a strong foundation? What about working towards meaningful and lasting friendships?

What about honouring our commitments? What about channeling our energies and emotions towards building lifelong bonds rather than wasting them on seasonal relationships?

Love is so much more than a fleeting song and a glass of wine. It doesn’t always lie on satin sheets. It isn’t found in diamonds and perfumes and flowers.

It’s about respect, companionship, understanding, appreciation. It’s about being yourself and loving the other person for who they are. It’s about making it through thick and thin.

Relationships take work. Love makes it easy.

I believe that true love happens once in a lifetime.

Don’t let frivolous flings tire you out so much that when true love comes your way you aren’t able to receive it with open arms.

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Slaves to sensationalism

News? It’s such a joke these days.

There was a time when broadcast media reported on, analyzed, and facilitated critical thinking. There was a time when reporters were serious journalists covering social, political, economic, religious, world issues of significance.

There was a time when one wore the journalist badge proudly.

With the pressure of rolling something — anything — out every minute in our 24/7 news cycle, not only has the quality of news reports declined, but the idea of what constitutes news has changed as well.

I recently watched Rann, a Hindi movie exploring the difference (?) between news and sensationalism. What they portrayed wasn’t any different from what we’re bombarded with in the guise of news every morning, afternoon, and night.

This morning I received an e-mail from Ragan News Stand with the blurb:

Have you heard about Donna Simpson? She’s a 600-pound New Jersey woman who’s all over cable news today. Why? She’s trying to gain 400 pounds! And she’s funding this diet with donations from her Web site. That’s right; people are paying to watch her eat. Cable news, says the Web site Mediaite, loves this story, because these networks are lazy. “Here’s a story with a light reporting load, but lots of eyeball-grabbing images and talking head fodder,” Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher wrote. Consider the Donna Simpson story — light reporting, lots of eyeball-grabbing images and talking head fodder — the next time you draft a pitch … to cable news, at least.

Is that what we’re reducing “news” to? Striking visuals, zero investigative reporting, and superficial, irrelevant stories — almost like mini-soap operas to entertain, not educate, us?

When I interned at a local TV station a couple of years ago and questioned why we chose to do a story on “tight stockings and its effects on women’s health” instead of one on “breakthrough cancer research,” I was told that’s what the viewers want to see!

Really?

Is this the kind of fluff we’re willing to accept in lieu of real problems that need to be addressed? Have we resigned to the media moguls telling us what news should be? If not, why don’t we, the viewers, voice our disgust?

Or, are we ok being entertained by television news, because our assumption is that the “real” stuff will be covered by print outlets anyway?

The media is supposed to be a reflection of who we are as a society — is this what we have become? Slaves to sensationalism?

Now, don’t go about tweeting this. It might just show up on CNN’s ego-surfing coverage on your telly!

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Writing is all about editing

One of the most critical aspects of writing is often the one most overlooked: editing. Everyone thinks they can write. But there is a difference in writing, and writing well. That difference is where the editor comes in.

Looking to trim unnecessary words, making expressions stronger, paraphrasing quotes, moving critical information to the top, ending with a punch — the editor looks at the written piece with new eyes. Critical ones.

Weeding away the fluff. Polishing the rough edges. Making the piece sing.

It’s hard to retain the voice of the writer and yet capture the essence of an article. What’s harder is editing your own content.

I’ve been trained in school and on the job to never let the first draft be the final one. I write my initial thoughts. Build a structure. Fill in all the details. And walk away.

Re-reading what I’ve written a day, or sometimes even a couple of hours, later helps me finesse it. I can usually make it sharper. Add some interesting visuals. Make sure it all holds together well.

Then I think of a title that sums up the piece. And subheads that will move it along forward if it’s a lengthy article or blog post.

Finally I proofread. I’ve learned that relying solely on a spellchecker isn’t worth the time you save.

For my blog posts, I then add tags, choose categories, and, after a little bit of trepidation, hit the Publish button.

Even though this is an informal platform, it’s important to not let the quality of your writing lapse. It doesn’t matter what or why you write or blog —  editing takes your writing from a collection of thoughtful expressions to effective communication.

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Not wired 24/7

What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Stretch a little, drink a glass of water? Rub your eyes and will your body into leaving the warmth of the bed?

That used to be me, a couple of years ago. I’d lie curled under my Jaipuri quilt, gazing out the window — sunlight streaming through the oak leaves, the sound of finches going about their daily business.

And then something changed.

My head propped against two pillows, still not quite awake, I would reach for my laptop, slowly open my eyes and stare at thousands of updates from bloggers, friends, and journalists around the world.

While I waded through the tweets, plurks, tumblelogs, Flickrs, Jaiku activity streams, Facebook and Plaxo Pulse updates, I was also e-mailing colleagues and speeding through RSS feeds in my customized Google Reader. I would spend the first 20 minutes every morning scrambling through the noise of Web 2.0.

Thanks to my iPhone, I could also carry the “noise” with me. As I scanned through another 1,ooo+ unread news items, I munched on my mix of pumpkin seeds and flax granola mixed with rolled oats and Cheerios.

My Bluetooth device in place, I would step out to catch the shuttle that would ferry me over to the light rail station a mile away. During the 40-minute commute, I would access my social networking updates through FriendFeed, continue scanning news items and sharing the ones I liked with friends,  tweet about the crowd in the train, and review work e-mails.

I had become a cyborg.

Even though at heart, I’m more of a floppy-disk than a thumb-drive person, I had been swallowed by the “need” to keep up with the millennials. Just so, I could feel relevant.

I didn’t have a cell phone until my first job in India at age 23 and we got around just fine by using pay phones, writing letters (yes, that’s right – handwritten letters on paper that we mailed), and meeting people face-to-face.

I distinctly remember when we sat around as a family to watch the one public television channel that was broadcast from 5 to 10 p.m. on our black and white TV.

That was it.

There was no pay-per-view, or 300 channels to choose from and we couldn’t “log on” to watch YouTube videos.

We read books for entertainment, we had real-time conversations at the dinner table instead of texting our friends while chomping down a meal, we went out and played softball, cricket and badminton (not as a structured activity, but for fun!) and we waited while the phone rang and rang and rang until it got disconnected.

And then we called again.

But things have changed – and drastically so. For today’s kids, being wireless is the norm, texting is the new e-mail, and voice messages have always existed. Even the two-year-olds throw a “regular” phone away in favor of swiping their index finger rapidly on an iPhone screen!

Now we have this ever-pressing need to be “connected” — not just online — but actually actively socializing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, Buzz, Habbo, hi5, Foursquare, Xanga or a plethora of other services.

I have 378 friends on Facebook and 162 people in my Orkut network — 99.9 percent of them are people I have met and known at some point in my life.

I love the fact that I can look at their profile updates, go through their public photos and scroll through their Walls or Scrapbooks to see what’s going on in their lives. But not everyone has this policy of “friending” — most social network users open up their network to strangers — that’s the whole point, they say, of networking!

And don’t even get me started on Chatroulette — the latest fad that pairs random strangers for Webcam-based conversations. Eek!

For me, the internet has made it a lot easier to keep in touch with family and friends. But when it starts becoming more real than the reality of your life, it’s time to take a timeout.

And that’s what I have done.

I log on to Facebook thrice a day: once every morning to check on friends’ updates and ask my question of the day, then sometime in the afternoon to post an update of this blog, and then for half an hour at night to beat my opponents at Bejeweled Blitz.

I’ve stopped following Twitter as rampantly and phased out all the other services that hogged my time and attention, leaving me no time to think. Just consume. Reams and reams of unstoppable information.

I’ve whittled down my Google Reader subscriptions to the ones I will actually read, not keep saving to pore over “some day.”

Now, I take a minute, sometimes two, to appreciate being alive to see another morning before “plugging in.”

I watch the weather and traffic reports while eating breakfast and listen to the radio during my commute.

Sometimes I take a break from the distant chatter in the background and just hum.

I like being able to think critically, stretch my mental muscles, and analyze, not just observe, what is. I like being able to share something meaningful. And as much as I want to be in step with the times, I’m not going be so obsessed with documenting irrelevant updates that I lose touch with reality.

I don’t want to be one of those people for whom events become real only when they tweet about them.

Maybe I’m just getting “old.”

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Confessions of the “non-feminine” kind

“But every woman loves going to the mall!!”

I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve had the same surprised … nay …. jaw-dropping reaction to my disinterest in going to a 50,000 square-foot zoo of clothes, shoes, knickknacks, and fast food. I just find it a terrible waste of time.

It’s crowded. There’s always the temptation to buy junk food. You browse and browse and browse and after some time it all starts looking the same.

When I can buy almost everything stocked in a mall online, why would I go through the hassle of driving to a shopping center teeming with people, spend an average of 15 minutes looking for a parking spot, and tire my soles walking from one end to the other because the two stores I need stuff from are at opposite ends of the mall?

And why would I lug those bags when I can get the same items delivered (for free most of the time) to my doorstep?

Even on those rare occasions that I do end up going to the mall (and believe me, before taking that extreme step I try everything in my power to avoid it!) I’m in and out in half an hour.

I know exactly what I want, which shop I’m headed to, and how much I’m willing to pay. If I don’t find what I’m looking for in that one store, I head out in 10 minutes. If I do, I try it on … if it fits, I pay for it and am on my way. I can’t look at one thing in one store, then head to another to compare the style, the price, the what-have-you … I just don’t have the patience.

Same applies to manis, pedis, facials — too much time investment. When all you really need is a daily cleaning-moisturizing regimen. The only time I’ve experienced these extravagances is right before my wedding. To make mom happy.

Makeup? My “kit” includes a foundation, a mini eyeshadow box (a gift), and lip balm.

Jewelry? I’m not into diamonds, let’s just say that. Or gold. Or silver. I go for the $2 earrings, have worn the same modest ring for the last nine years without any urge to “upgrade” and even though I got my nose pierced last week, I know the stud’s only going to be replaced (if at all) with other $2 equivalents. The more expensive the jewelry, the more a waste of money it seems. $800 for a tiny piece of rock that catches the sun? That could be my trip to Kauai!

Handbags? Most days you’ll see me with a cloth sling bag just big enough to hold my wallet, phone, and keys. It’s practical.

It’s not just women who think I’m weird when I express my disinterest in these supposedly “feminine” things. It’s also men.

“You’d rather stay back and play Monopoly with us instead of going to the mall with our wives? Are you sure?” ask my male friends.

When we visit our friend in San Francisco, he always insists we go to the Bloomingdale’s across his house.

I always ask for other options.

“You’d rather hike when you’re sitting in the middle of this shopping mecca?” he asks eyes widened, mouth open, voice shrill.

I think heels are impractical, pantyhose is useless, and perfumes are for those who smell bad enough for others to notice. And don’t even get me started on lacy lingerie — such a scam!

It’s not that I’m not “girly” — whatever that’s supposed to mean — but these are just some things other women enjoy and I don’t. It’s just that simple.

Some female friends have commented that I enjoy defying stereotypes, but I really don’t have an agenda.

All I ask is why restrict yourself with labels? Why not do something you truly enjoy doing instead of being stuck with society’s notion of what you should and shouldn’t do? There’s a whole world of opportunities out there for me to discover — why shouldn’t I experiment?

Men like this, women like that — oh  baloney!

Unearth the joys of discovering yourself. And go do what you like!

Side note: try doing a Google image search with the keyword “shopping.” No surprises 🙂

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