A Look Back: The Mind of a Young Professional

A Look Back: The Mind of a Young Professional
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Des Moines skyline at night.

NOTE: I’m introducing a series of old posts I wrote for Juice from 2006 until 2008. This post was written on February 23, 2006, during my first week blogging. The topic for this entry is about what is a young professional in Des Moines.

The uptick of young professionals in Des Moines started to become the “buzz” in 2006. Companies, business leaders, and others started to take notice of YPs, and YPs saw opportunities to have “a seat at the table” in the community. I wondered if I fit the prototype of a “young professional” and what exactly a YP is to symbolize? The definition of a YP has evolved significantly from 2006, as this post from 2012 examined.

The Mind of a Young Professional

It’s amazing how Des Moines is embracing the growing number of “young professionals” that has made the Golden Circle their home. Young professionals are looked at as “up and comers,” “the ones to watch,” and “the new leaders.” There are several well-known organizations that are targeted to young professionals: Young Professionals Connection, Young Variety, and Impact Downtown, to name a few. These organizations are phenomenal resources and places to go to network with other peers, as well as establish friendships.

However, in the back of my mind, I don’t feel that I am a “professional”, a “leader”.  I don’t work in a corner office, don’t have a mentor, or is looked at as a rising star. I don’t beg for adulation or a celebration for myself. I do my job and feel satisfied when the job is done. 

When I think of a young professional, I think of attorneys, teachers, real estate brokers, advertising, and executives. Places like Principal, CBRE, Drake, and Bankers Trust, also comes to mind. Since I work in an administrative assistant position, I don’t feel that I am a professional. I should be a “professional”, but how do I get to be where they are at? Do those who work in blue-collar jobs considered to be young professionals? Artists? 

2014 candidates for Juice Young Professional of the Year. (From Left to Right) Sunni Swarbrick, Lincoln Dix, Liz Lidgett, and Gabe Glynn. Juice Editor Sarah Day Owen on the far right. (Juice)

What constitutes a young professional in Des Moines?

Do I have to be involved in so many organizations that people will notice me as an emerging leader? Do I have to live downtown? Should I be in tune with the arts (music, paintings, and cultural events)? Do I need to have all of the professional connections to be a mover and a shaker in this town?

Is accomplishing all of this too much to handle? Or should I do several of these to feel that I’m doing something not only to help others, but to make me feel better about myself?

At times, I feel like an impostor. I go to social functions to network with my peers, attend and support the arts, volunteer in community projects, and as Cavan (Reagan Reichmann) noted I’m involved in the social fabric of the young sector of Des Moines. But, when I look around, it feels like it’s not enough. If I don’t stay in the public eye, I become irrelevant and of little value. 

Which begs the question: what value do I offer by networking, being involved in the community, doing good things? To build and enhance my profile so I can have the chance to move up in the world, or does it really matter?

That’s a question I can only find for myself. 

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It’s Not A “Term” Of Endearment

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Last week, my family and I made our first ever trip to Florida for a long overdue family vacation. Given that I’ve been busy and haven’t posted in a while, it was good to get away from Des Moines and unplug mentally…sort of.

There was no way that I was going to part with my iPhone and the comings and goings on social media.

But there is one topic that I need to vent about because it was long overdue for it to be said.

My cousin, who is wise despite being younger than I am, posted this on Facebook:

Opinion : until blacks show more respect for the pain behind the N word we have no right to get mad when someone from another race uses it….if we don’t respect our history why would anyone else?

This is a perfect response. in light of the Paula Deen fiasco. I don’t consider Deen a racist. A racist is someone who has a consistent history or pattern of intentionally saying insensitive and demeaning terms, and/or behaving in a way that typifies a strong hatred towards a group or individuals that is degrading. From what I know at this point, Deen has no such history of racist attitudes in the past. She uttered a word that was insensitive.

She’s no David Duke, I can tell you that.

The real racists, and I’ll get heat for saying it, is my own people…African-Americans. How we continue to use the N-word as terms of endearment is not endearing, nor is it cute. That word has an ugly and insensitive history, and yet we still use it in the black community as if there is nothing wrong with it.

There is something wrong with this picture.

That word shouldn’t be used at all, especially African-Americans. We look like hypocrites: “if you say it, you’re a racist. if we say it, it’s cool and acceptable.”

That’s bull—-. It’s not acceptable. It’s shameful.

To their credit, the LGBT community use education and awareness to eradicate the use of the all of the derogatory slurs that have been used to describe them. You know what those words are. I don’t have to list them.

To the LGBT community, those slurs and its historical connotations leave little doubt of its harmful impact.

The black community needs to stop tap-dancing around and coming up with weak excuses to rationalize why it’s alright for my people to banter the n-word around and no one else can’t.

It’s time to end the usage of the N-word. By eliminating it, we can cut down on some of the silliness, hypocrisy, and reinforce the notion why this word is harmful. .

I’m not mad at Paula Deen.

I’m pissed off with my community for dismissing the historic context of what the n-word means.

I’ve said in the past, African-Americans are just as racists as any other group. We get a “free pass” for hurling slurs and insensitive words towards other groups, and no punishment is given.

No more free passes should be given to African-Americans if they continue to use the n-word. As my cousin pointed out, if African-Americans have no respect for each other to stop using the n-word, then why should we expect anyone else to have respect not to say it themselves?

That’s on us.

The Paradox of “The Adversity Paradox”

In their book “The Adversity Paradox” Barry Griswell and Rob Jennings talked about Millennials and the lack of adversity in their short young lives.  One sentence caught my attention. 

“Job hopping has replaced putting in time with a new employer to work out any frustrations.”

–page 80, “The Adversity Paradox”

To me, the authors were implying that Millennials would rather jump to a new job than to deal with a difficult boss at a current job. 

There is partial fallacy with that statement.

I have worked for employers in the past where despite working with difficult managers to address any problems, personality conflicts, or philosophical differences, it was never good enough, and I was the one who had to leave, not by my own choice. 

At least I reached out and made an effort to make it work.  They chose not to.  Which leads me to this…

It’s not always the employee (Millenials in Griswell and Jennings’ opinion) who does not want to deal with adversity.  It was the employer who were unwilling to deal with adversity themselves.  Some will go to great lengths to ignore, run away and hide from dealing with an employee that they feel, in their own prejudiced mind or not, is not worth the time to work with to resolve issues. 

Barry Griswell

 

To them, it’s better to cut their losses and find someone that they can shape and mold not to challenge ideas and culture (to be robots), rather than hire someone who can see things differently, and be different (be creative and make a contribution). 

Does the first two episodes of Mad Men this season ring a bell?  Things are a changin’ for Don, Peggy, Roger, and the clan. 

A homogenized culture is not always a creative or successful culture in the workplace.

As Jennings and Griswell stated several pages later, there is no “one size fit all” when it comes to assessing employees.  Employees are different.  Extroverted, introverted, some can work under pressure, and others can work with a set of guidelines.  With that said, there are bosses or managers who hire and expect employees to think, behave, and do their work like they (managers) do. 

For managers, it’s easier not to adapt or alter their gameplan for someone who is a little slower, or prefer to know about how their job is connected to everyone else in the office, or can see new ideas that could increase the efficiency and success of said company. 

That’s too much work for some. 

There are Millennials who have faced personal or career adversity so far in their young lives. If not, then give them a few more years.  Down the road, they will run into it.  Many Gen Xers like me have been through it or are currently facing it.  With as many challenges I have faced as someone in a “job transition”, I no longer see “job-hopping” as a “get out of jail card” when things get rough. 

Why? 

Because it is still an employer’s market.  If an employer feel that they no longer need you, whether in a full-time capacity, or if a part-time contract work has been completed, you have to start looking for a new place where your someone will have a need for you and your skills. 

"Yeaaaaaah, you Millennials don't like to deal with adversity, I take it. I have some GPS reports that needs to be worked on tonight. You better DVR that Kentucky/Kansas title game."

I see “job-hopping” as an opportunity to try out something that I could end up enjoying doing.  If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean I failed.  It wasn’t a good fit (notice I didn’t say the “perfect” or “right” fit).  All I’m looking for is a good fit where I can offer value and my skills to a place of employment, who in return, can show appreciation, offer feedback, and work toward a goal of being better. 

For the most part, everything Griswell and Jennings have espoused about adversity in their book I agree with, simply because I’m going through it. 

But, the idea that all Millennials do not know about adversity, is simply a silly notion.

He’s Wrong and He’s Right

Iowa isn’t flat. You don’t need Christopher Columbus to prove that. (Sioux City Journal file photo)

I had planned on writing a little letter to Dr. Stephen Bloom, but I felt some perspective was needed before writing about something based purely on reactionary terms.

By now, everyone across the state of Iowa knows Bloom and the write-up he penned for The Atlantic Magazine

A lot of folks here in the land between two rivers are very upset by his “flame-torch” observation of Iowa as the 2012 Caucus approaches on January 3rd.  Much like the Iowa Hawkeyes football season, anything bad that happens, we over-react in a frenzied mode.  It’s easy for Mike Draper of RAYGUN to print up a shirt mocking Bloom, it’s easy for people to send messages to The Atlantic to voice their displeasure and wanting their recourse towards Bloom.

The problem is, when we don’t read the entire text of he wrote, only reacting to the excerpts and quotes that were highlighted, we miss the entire picture, right Mike????

This isn’t going to make people happy, but I’ll say it:  there is some validity to Bloom’s observations, if you get beyond some of his disparaging remarks, which is his opinion, like it or not. 

For everything we romanticize about our fair state, there’s plenty of challenges that we are currently facing, or will face. 

I agree with a large part of his observation of the socioeconomic and political culture of Iowa.  Iowa is facing plenty of issues that we know all too well.  It doesn’t take a professor to figure that out.  (Yeah, I wrote that last sentence.  Sometimes, I have to be a smartass.  I’m too nice.) 

There are some things he wrote that is very true: 

  • Iowa is not flat. 
  • The once-flourishing river towns of Keokuk, Davenport, to name a few, are reshaping an identity for themselves, now that the Mississippi River is no longer a major mode of transportation. 
  • The eastern side of the state is mostly Democratic, the western half is Republican.
  • We continue to re-elect Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley to the U.S. Senate, and we love incumbents

Bloom calls the whole thing schizophrenic, I call it unique and an example of how we operate here in Iowa.  Partisanship aside, I have long theorized that Iowans will elect people who can do their job and ensure that we get what we want from Washington or from the statehouse in Des MoinesIf you can deliver the “goods”, you get re-elected.  Plain and simple.

 I have been an Iowan all of my life.  A black Iowan, mind you, Dr. Bloom.  One of about 50,000 in this state.  You’ll probably find us in the urban areas.  It’s lovely in Davenport, Des Moines, Waterloo, and Sioux City at this time of the year.

The crux of Bloom’s dissertation is this:  why does Iowa gets so much attention by this nation and the political world every four years when it comes to the Presidential election?  Bloom’s ulterior motive, to me, is to tell America about the “real” Iowa…from his own eyes.

Personally, he barely scratched the surface.  There is a lot more to Iowa than “ve-HICK-les”, NASCAR, and the Hawkeyes. 

Bloom described Keokuk as a crime-riddled skuzzy town.  I wonder why he hasn’t visited my hometown of Waterloo, where the continual lingering effect of racial tension and crime rears its ugly head from time to time.  I should know:  my grandparents lived down the street from one of the most infamous crimes in Iowa history.   

Every town isn’t free of criminal activity, Dr. Bloom.  Even in Iowa City, when your students get tagged for underage drinking.  Des Moines, for a long time, was referred to as “Little Chicago” because it was a refuge for Chicago criminals to hide out in the 1970’s. 

I have seen a lot of changes in this state over the past 35 years, going on 36 (on New Year’s Day).  Iowa is not a place where things quickly change for the sake of change.  It takes prodding, convincing, and showing everyone the big picture that we have to evolve and keep pace with the world.  It can be a struggle or very easy, but that’s what we’re doing…together.  That’s the challenge of cultural change, Dr. Bloom:  it takes time and patience to make it happen.  But, it’s will not go at the pace that you want it to be. 

Remember when East Village was run-down and desolate? Yeah, neither did I. (Picture Des Moines)

I do disagree with him on his assessment that Iowans are a bunch of gun-toting, isolationist, God-fearing conservative folks.  We’re more than that.  Look at me, I’ve never lived on a farm, never fired off a shotgun, independent of both political parties, and I attend church when I’m able to, if I’m not visiting family or volunteering. 

As far as naivety is concerned, we use it as a facade at times, but for the most part, we let our niceness and politeness give off the sense that we’re dolts and simpletons.  That is what Bloom is asserting, in my view.  Folks, it’s alright to show a little mean streak if someone insults us.  Lord knows how many times I want to tell Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann to shove it up where the sun don’t shine. 

After years and years of in-your-face religion, I decided to give what has become an annual lecture, in which I urge my students not to bid strangers “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter,” “Have you gotten all your Christmas shopping done?” or “Are you going to the Easter egg hunt?” Such well-wishes are not appropriate for everyone, I tell my charges gently. A cheery “Happy holidays!” will suffice. Small potatoes, I know, but did everyone have to proclaim their Christianity so loud and clear?

Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. One gutsy, red-in-the-face student told me in no uncertain terms that for the rest of her life, she would continue offering Merry Christmas and Happy Easter tidings to strangers, no matter what I, or anyone else, said, because, “That’s just who I am and I’m not about to change. Ever!” Score one for sticking it to the ethnic interloper.

-Stephen Bloom, “Observations from 20 years in Iowa” The Atlantic, December 2011

Bloom crossed the line here.  Lecturing his students how to address their holiday greetings was more self-groveling and venting his hatred towards “Merry Christmas.”  Not all people who say “Merry Christmas” are religious.  If someone says “Merry Christmas”, a suffice “You too and Happy Holidays” will do, Dr. Bloom.  No one’s trying to force their religion on anyone.  If they do, they have a problem…with themselves. 

I use both terms.  Not by choice, but what comes easily out of my mouth, if I’m not stuttering to spit it out. 

The Iowa State Wrestling Tournament

Bloom is correct when he says that Iowa is a yesteryear to the past, for good and possibly bad.  The good is that there is still a society and a part of the world that value decency, respect, and humility.  The bad:  the troubling perception from the outside world that Iowa is still a “lily-white” Pangaea that is steadfast in sticking to their beliefs and traditions, that could be seen as politically incorrect. 

Stephen Bloom, for the most part, took an elitist position when he wrote about this state.  Folks don’t like it when someone writes or talks above their heads and subtly mocks them for their way of life and attitudes.  I’m guilty of that myself, so I have to tone down the intellectual guff and make it sensible for everyone to understand what’s being written. 

Trust me, it’s hard for us to drop some of those attitudes as well.  But denigrating people to prove a point does ooze a sense of personal discontent for him. 

Dr. Bloom implied that we’re the ones who are stuck in our ways.  Maybe it’s the other way around. I’m starting to think that he’s the one who hasn’t changed with the times, if we’re solely judging his attitude and his snide remarks.

But make no doubt that our challenge, as Iowans, is to keep showing America that we are culturally intuitive, open-minded, willing to take on new endeavors and lifestyles, and still maintain the integrity and respect towards our fellow woman and man.  Midwest nice isn’t just a catchphrase.

Fear and the unknown are the driving force and reasons for us not to evolve.

I wonder what Dr. Bloom is really afraid of?

Becoming one of us, or realizing that we’re just as smart as he is?

Don’t Mess with Beavers

Don't you have a bad feeling that you may run into Flo in a supermarket aisle one of these days?

Earlier today, the greatness that is Josh Fleming of Lessing-Flynn and Strategic America (SA) talked about Flo, the annoying customer service aisle girl from the Progressive Insurance commercials.  Josh tweeted “If I never hear a Flo from Progressive ad again it will be too soon.”  To which SA “cosigned” (endorsed) the tweet without any hesitation. 

Being the information hound that I am, I landed a gold mine several weeks ago by finding a set of commercials that, if you can see through the double entendre, is laugh out funny and make Progressive’s Flo campaign look like one of Michael Libbie’s “Worst Commercial of the Week.” 

Molson’s have been producing beer in Canada for a long time.  In the following four commercials for their “Molson’s Canadian“, you’ll see how they lampooned the cultural references of Canada (beer, dialect, and my favorite curry critter, the beaver), and rolled them together. 

Let this be a friendly reminder to Flo…don’t mess with the Beaver!!!  The critter, not the kid named Cleaver.

Is Generation X the “middle-class” generation?

Will Generation X become extinct in the workplace?

On Tuesday, I listened to David Stillman’s presentation “Generations in the Workplace”, hosted by the Business Record and Merit Resources.  I would write up an entire blog about it, but an acquaintance of mine, Isaiah McGee, beat me to it.  His Iowa Biz column will explain more about the different generations in the workplace.

Several things stood out to me about the presentation.  Right now is the first time in history that all four generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials) are working together.  With respects to all of the columns and talks about Millennials, as an Generation X-er, I have a few things I need to say.

As a generational group with the lowest population size (46 million), Gen Xers tend to be the group that isn’t talked about much in the business community anymore, sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials. My assertion before Stillman’s talk is that Generation X are the generational “middle-class”.  We were the ones who were labeled “slackers”, the “latch-key” kids, the most skeptical, and in turn the most independent.

David Stillman of Bridgeworks. He spoke in Des Moines on Tuesday about how all generations can coexist in the workplace.

As someone who is between jobs and is a X-er, there is a strong feeling that Generation X is considered “washed up” in the workplace.  That can be attributed to the number of Boomers and Millennials (80 million and 76 million respectively) who are in the workforce and is competing for jobs once the economy starts to improve.  It’s not hard to see the changing culture in the workplace.  Human Resources is filled with Millennials fresh out of college; Boomers are still in middle management, and Traditionalists are the CEOs.  In larger and smaller companies, Gen Xers are being replaced by Millennials and for some, the chances to find another job is somewhat small.

Douglas Coupland, one of the leading voices of Gen X. Click on his picture for his website, Coupland.com.

Stillman pointed out that Gen Xers have hit the “gray ceiling”, meaning Gen Xers have the education and the experience, but they have no place to go in the workplace.  The Boomers are not leaving the workplace anytime soon, and Gen Xers’ chances of moving up the ladder has been stunted.

Call me crazy, but I think Gen X is in a precarious spot as a generational group.  However, there is a growing trend that has developed.  As a generation of self-sufficient and independent individuals, Gen Xers created more start-up companies since 2002. Gen Xers are adaptive and have a zest in learning new things at work.  We’re resourceful, and are not afraid to be skeptical and point out something that can be fixed.

And we’re still hire-able.