A “Hip” and Progressive City Like Des Moines Should Be More Inclusive

Des Moines skyline.
Des Moines skyline.

An acquaintance of mine posted a link on Facebook recently, celebrating a friend of hers on a story he is doing on Des Moines for the National Journal. The National Journal is doing a series called “The Next America”, specifically focusing on the reality of 21st Century Iowa (as if the rest of the world thinks we’ve just climbed out of the 19th Century, but Scott Siepker would beg to differ).

It’s no surprise that Des Moines, the city I live in, is receiving recognition from publications for being a great place to live, work, to create startups, and other things. It is a city that is recognized, along with the state of Iowa, for legalizing gay marriages, the influx of young professionals, and exuding “Iowa nice”.

The current topic in Des Moines and Iowa is encouraging women to take on a larger leadership role in business and politics. Iowa, along with Mississippi, are the two lone states that have not elected a woman to Congress. All of that could change next month. Maybe it won’t, but it’s a big deal.

What many here in Iowa do not realize, or have ignored, is that Iowa haven’t elected a minority to Congress either. And another topic that’s not being discussed, despite the all of the progress taking place in Des Moines, is that the African-American community is a non-factor.

It is an invisible community. We see it everyday in Des Moines, and yet we prefer to tout how same-sex friendly we are and our pursuit to elect a woman to Congress.  There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s nice to pat ourselves on the back for being #1 on every list from Forbes to The Today Show, but we still have work to do to make it better.

A lot of work.

Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

State representative Ako Abdul-Samad spoke to reporter Matt Vasilogambros about how the urban core of Des Moines have been forgotten as the other cores of the city and suburbs like Beaverdale, Waukee, Downtown, and Gateway West has become desirable places for residents and businesses. While this is not surprising to me, what is disconcerting is that Abdul-Samad expressed his discouragement to a national publication…and not to the local media.

Did he tell the National Journal his sentiments because he felt that the local media, city/regional leaders, and the business community would continue to ignore the urban core? Is there a reason he chose to speak with a national publication about the plight of Des Moines’ urban core and the lack of progress from a business and quality of life standpoint?

For Abdul-Samad to tell a national publication and not address it locally puzzles me. He may have his reasons. The main point of this entry is that if Des Moines is going to brag about its “great” diversity when it comes to life and work, the African-American community should get the same attention and support that the growing Latino, Asian, and LGBT communities receive.

Des Moines and Polk County hasn’t had a minority on the city council or board of supervisors for nearly a decade. There has been little traction to encourage and engage African-Americans in the growing business sector, downtown projects, and overall when it comes to daily life. There are a few African-Americans in the Des Moines business community that people know of, but if you asked me, I hear of their names, but I never see their faces.

It’s discouraging for me as an African-American young professional to continue to have the sense of “I’m the only black in this meeting, event, or workplace.” I attended a local Young Non-Profit Network meetup recently. I surveyed the room before the meeting.

Yep, that feeling crept in. I don’t mind it because I can roll with it, but there has to be African-Americans in this city who are interested in non-profits, arts, and other stuff.

If there is an area of improvement that Des Moines has to work on, with genuine seriousness and not some make-shift short-term Band Aid solution to cover it up, is to re-engage themselves into the black community and encourage African-Americans YPs like myself to be active in the community, whether its volunteering at church, food pantries like Move the Food, or reading programs.

The Business Record, a local business publication, hosts forums and events to raise awareness of women in business. Why not do a similar one for minority groups?

I have to keep in mind that it is a choice. You can’t force people to “get involved” and “be engaged”. What is important is to make these opportunities available. If someone takes advantage of it, we need to embrace their opinions and perspective, for it helps us understand and improve our quality of life.

The Rose Garden at the Des Moines Art Center.
The Rose Garden at the Des Moines Art Center.

Des Moines is a good place to live and work, however, in order to reach its full potential, Des Moines need to address the lack of African-American involvement in the progression of this city. Awards are cute and nice, but everyone should be able to share in the accolades.

That means all citizens. No one should be forgotten or ignored as this city continues to progress towards newer and better things.

Crossroads

Is it time to leave, in order to find success and sense of worth?

Last week, I attended a going away party. In the midst of the fun and the enjoyment, a long-held thought crept into my mind again. It was hard to dismiss it.

My gear is stuck in neutral. I’m at the proverbial crossroads of what the rest of my life will end up being.

Everyone around me, friends and acquaintances, are landing new jobs, careers, getting married, starting families, you know, all of the good things that we celebrate. I celebrate for my friends when great news arrive, and I’m there when bad news hits the door.

Then there’s the feeling of “why is it that everyone is having the best year of their lives, and I’m going nowhere?”

I’m a positive person for the most part. I try not to let anyone in on how draining and depressing it is when you feel that no one understands how much you struggle to survive each day. There is no such thing as living life to the fullest, because life isn’t perfect.

It never was perfect.

Is it that everyone is afraid to understand, because they don’t want to “feel” the emotions that you are experiencing? Are we doing all we can to deny being vulnerable to these feelings, because we have to suppress them, to appease everyone?

When someone asks me about my job search, I tell them my current status. Then, they conclude with “…well, I’ll keep my eye out on anything (for you).”

Please do me a favor: stop doing it.

Most of you will never keep an eye out for any job openings for anyone, not even for a friend. No one is willing to risk their reputation and credibility if they recommend a friend.

Someone I know said “it’s not who you know, but it’s who knows you.” The people in my age group, and the non-profit/volunteer world, knows who I am.

The business community doesn’t know who I am. To most of them, I’m a 37-year old Generation X single professional male, who is “invisible” to them. I’m not the superstar up-and-coming vice president, account manager, event planner that they can groom to be the new leaders.

I’ll never be picked to be in the class of Forty Under 40 or be profiled in dsm Magazine. That’s reality. I’m willing to accept that as fact.

I have done everything to build identity capital: volunteer, network, being active in different professional and social circles. As Meg Jay pointed out, “identity capital begets identity capital.” (Note, Jay’s talk isn’t just for 20-somethings. 30-somethings need to watch this too.)

After nearly four years of doing this, the result has come up empty.

In my personal life, time is running out on me to find and start a family, and establishing “solid” roots in the community. I’m 37 years old. I shouldn’t be single and lonely. I don’t mind doing things alone, but loneliness is a silent killer.

It infuriates me when friends and acquaintances blindly utter the “if you don’t think about it, it’ll happen” line when it comes to seeking a mate. If I “don’t think about it”, it will never happen.

From my standpoint, it’s the worst advice ever to offer to a person. It tells that person several things:

  • You don’t think they are worthy of dating or having a mate. They’re not worthy of love.
  • You’re discouraging them from trying, intentionally or unintentionally, and
  • If they did find that person they choose to be with, you would be jealous as hell.

Saying that I’m better off single is an insult, if you want my honest opinion. I don’t tell you that being married or dating is a waste of time or a huge mistake. The time to pick my family (importantly a mate) is now. I don’t have the time to “take as much time as I need” to find someone to be with.

Everyone’s “got the right to love”, right? Why deny anyone that?

There is a point where I have to ask the inevitable: should I leave Des Moines, in order to find success personally and professionally?

Because I feel nothing is going to positively happen for me here. I’ve been patient and have kept my sanity in check long enough. I’m tired of being the one to see someone get a new job, watch someone walk down the aisle, and get noticed for business achievement.

When will my “best year” happen?  Today? Tomorrow? Never?

Interchangable Titles

I’m confused.

No, seriously, I am confused.

For a long time, I felt I needed a “mentor” to help develop and guide me through my professional profile and create opportunities with respects to a career.

Not too long ago, someone mentioned that a “coach” is better than a mentor because that person will coach you to be the best in your chosen or new career.

Then, I was told “you don’t need a mentor. What you need is an ‘influencer’, who can influence your career.”

A few days ago, someone tossed all of that aside and suggested that I need to find a “sponsor” to advocate for me in the workplace.

I raise a practical question: where am I going to find a “mentor”, “coach”, “influencer”, and a “sponsor” all at once?  Are they the same person? Different individuals?

Which one is a better fit for me? Or will I benefit from all four? 

As a self-admitted late bloomer professional, being stuck in neutral, career-wise, with no true compass to follow is “no way to go through life” as Dean Wormer famously said.

Am I mentorable, coachable, or worthy of sponsorship in the workplace? It doesn’t feel like it, since I have no established record of success or anything that would “wow” others thorough influence or power.

Charitable things notwithstanding, what have I really accomplished in the business world?

There is some pressure to do something “big” and important.  As a Gen Xer, if you haven’t achieved or “made it”, then all signs point to failure and missed opportunities.

Are the terms “mentoring”, “coaching”, “influencing”, and “sponsoring” interchangeable or separate terms?

The Value of “Skills and Expertise” on LinkedIn: What Does It Really Say About Me?

The fabulous Becky Mollenkamp posed a question this morning on Twitter

“Wow, I must be really good.  People I don’t know are endorsing me on LinkedIn. (Seriously, why would you endorse someone you don’t know?)”

I was wondering the same thing.  Not that I don’t mind being endorsed by people I know, but I have to ask myself about the skills and expertise that I profess to be great at. 

What am I an “expert” in? 

Let’s go down the list of the skills and expertise I’ve been “endorsed” for: 

Social media:  I know how to use social media, mainly for recreational use and to help plug a few people, things, and causes.  I know nothing about measuring the “return on investment” and “value” social media provides to a business, and the metrics of who follows what on social media.  I toss stuff on Twitter to see if it sticks.

Event planning:  I should clarify this.  I don’t consider myself as an event planner.  I don’t plan events.  I help “coordinate” events so that the logistics are in sync, people are where they should be and doing what they are assigned to do, as well as putting out small fires.  I’m not really a coordinator.  I keep things in order.

Fundraising:  the one area where I need the biggest improvement in.  I don’t know how to raise money (translation = get on my hands and knees and beg you to give money to a cause).  I suck in asking for money.  

Program management:  see event planning.  I keep things in order.

Editing:  I’ve never edited a book, magazine, or anything on a grand scale.  But give me a manual and ask me to proofread it or tweak it, yeah, I can do that.

Microsoft Office:  everyone knows how to use Microsoft Office.  It shouldn’t be considered a requirement on job descriptions, because we all use it as a function at work every day..

Social networking:  I network with people…socially.  I admit, I’m still having a difficult time learning how to use LinkedIn as a virtual business networking tool.  As far as networking in person, I’m still intimidated by people in high places (or are in better jobs/have better job titles).  What do I really offer as a service to them if we decide to network? 

I know there has to be a better way to use LinkedIn effectively, without using it as a way to collect virtual business cards from people to add to my online Rolodex.  I feel like a sleazy used car salesman doing that. 

Don’t misconstrue that I’m selling myself short on my skills.  I have to be honest in what I have done with my skills and how I have used them.  With that in mind, what does my “skills” tell others who see my LinkedIn profile?  Is it of value enough to be hired by employers?  Is it “business”-focused?  Does it offer “return of investment” for an employer? 

What does your “skills and expertise” really say to you when you read it?

Is Creating A “New” Job Really A “New” Job?

For as long as I can remember, the idea of creating new jobs to help resolve, or least smooth over, a struggling economy has been an interesting mystery to me. 

Just exactly, how do you “create” new jobs?  How do people who have lost jobs end up in these “new” jobs? 

Frankly, what are these “new” jobs? 

It feels as though these “new” jobs are basically the same recycled jobs we have always done, but supplanted from one place to another place.  Teacher, firefighter, desk job, or any other job we have had in the past are not “new” jobs, despite the goals to increase the number of these positions. 

They’re the same old jobs we have done forever.  Retread and recycled.

A “new” job is something that is created and has never been heard of before.  Social media strategist, new media reporter, are two that come to mind. 

I think of startups and entrepreneurs as part of the “new” class of jobs.  They are providing a service, niche or general, that is in need today.  From creating new apps for phones, or providing a new way to order concert tickets, these “new” jobs are in demand, but need to be created and shaped before they become a functional part of our daily world. 

That’s what “new” jobs, to me, is defined.  Sure, if you land a new job, it simply means you have changed locations, job title, and company.  But, is it a “new” job, or a recycled gig that someone else used to do before they left and you walked in? 

Hand Signals for Compromise

   

So, what did the five fingers "really" say to the face, Charlie Murphy?

 

Shirley Poertner wrote an article in the Iowa Biz section of the Business Record today about using fingers and hands as a way to facilitate disagreements and agreements when it comes to compromise. 

It’s an interesting concept. 

I wonder if Charlie Murphy and Rick James could have used it to hash out their disagreements.  (I’ll let you look that up on YouTube to see the skit.  I don’t want to be the one to get you into trouble at work.  Besides, you shouldn’t be watching it if it’s not safe for work anyway.  There’s too much cursing for a boss to hear!)

Write Your Own Goodbye Statement

Before you walk under this sign...write your own exit statement. Scripted lines suck.

There are not a lot of things that annoy me.  I’m a mild-mannered person most of the time.  It’s only when situations pop up unexpectedly or I’m being hurried, that I get pestered.

I would like to add the phrase “…we wish him (or her) best in their future endeavors” to my annoyance list.  This is a line that is used commonly in collegiate sports and in the business world when someone is let go from the office.

It is not genuine, nor does have show any real feelings.  The person or company who emails this as a memo to the rest of the employees do not truly wish their former employee well.

It’s a contrived, baseless script.  The employer think they can save face by “wishing” that person the best in their “future endeavors.”  In reality, they don’t care about the person once they terminate that professional relationship.

I feel that the person who is being let go should be given the option to write their own exit statement.

At least, it’ll be genuine and coming right from the person directly, instead of a scripted response.

Do you think it’s fair to let the exiting employee write their own good-byes, in place of the automated response?