Sunday, November 06, 2016

What exactly is thriving?

It's living -- going after what you DESIRE outta life and keeping at it until you see it or decide you want something new.

It's joy'ing, experiencing HAPPY or creating it even out of the seemingly thin blue skies, no matter whether the circumstances in your life warrant such or nah.

It's loving -- giving and receiving such.

It's creating that you want to see, feel, experience or share.

Creating. Building. Moving forward.  That's thriving, and that's what Cocoa Girl at Work is all about.

Thanks for joining me, Here's to not only the hustle, but the THRIVE.

Cocoa Girl

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

How to Answer the Question, "What do you do?"


Today's featured article is brought to us by way of Penelope Trunk's The Brazen Careerist.

No lie.  I, live in Manhattan/Buppieville Harlem while gigging to get published-I, used to struggle with answering this question for some time. Before I left my first career to write full time, there was always so much comfort and ease in just answering those four little words with "Well, I'm an account executive in consumer marketing PR." Before I hopped the front-office track to work as an admin, from 9 to 5, while writing post-work hours, those four little buggers didn't bother me at all.  Yet, after taking a step back to take a huge leap forward, I found it difficult to fess up to what the world (and obviously I) viewed as my lowered career status.

If you know the struggle and discomfort that comes with answering the seemingly innocuous "what do you do?," this article has your name written all over it. Be sure to check the helpful list at the bottom.

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How to Answer "What do you do?" 
by Penelope Trunk

Right after college, I was playing a bazillion hours a week of volleyball to get on the pro tour, and reading a book a night to make up for the fact that I was tortured for eighteen years by having to read what other people told me to read. But when people asked, “What do you do?” I said, “I work at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in arbitrage.”

It’s a good answer, right? I had choices: I could admit to reading like a crazy person. I could admit to trying to be in professional sports but not quite there, or I could give an answer that impressed everyone: I work in currency arbitrage. In reality, I was so incompetent at this job that when currencies went wild after the Berlin Wall fell, I lost a few million dollars for a few violent traders. The only possible reason to keep a dyslexic, literary, arbitrage clerk around was because she was good looking. But I wasn’t good looking enough. I got fired.

Immediately I focused on getting on the pro volleyball tour. At that point, “What do you do?” questions did not get “I’m getting a job in a children’s book store because I worked in the family book store for ten years and I can tell you the publisher of any author–quiz me.” Instead, I said, “I’m moving to Los Angeles to play professional beach volleyball.” To me, the book store was a step back to support volleyball, which was a step forward.

Describing my move to LA over and over again to prying relatives and concerned strangers actually made me believe it. How you answer the question “What do you do?” is important because it frames your story for you in a much more visceral way than it frames it for anyone else.

Recently, I had the problem again. I was sort of working at my startup, Brazen Careerist, but not really. The company got a new CEO and was moving to Washington, DC , and I was staying in Wisconsin and marrying the farmer.

“What do you do?” came up a lot because I was redecorating the farm house and traveling back and forth between DC and Madison and NY and Darlington. People in cities asked me what I was doing because clearly, I was not full-time at Brazen Careerist. And people in Darlington asked me because clearly I did not have a life in Darlington.

After trying out a lot of answers that came out poorly (like, I’m working at my company but not really) I came up with “I’m taking a few months off my job to decorate the house while I’m moving to the farm.”

It was a good answer. It was true, of course, but there are lots of true answers this type of question, and not all truthful answers are effective answers. It was a good answer because it reminded me that moving to the farm was a huge job. But also it made me realize that I had given myself an enormous education in interior design in a very short period of time.

I learned about Steampunk styling from hundreds of hours on the Internet. I absolutely fell in love with the idea of repurposing old things for new things, and seeing old in a new way.

I learned about color theory and practice from Maria Killam, who spent hours on the phone with me until I understood when orange on the fabric swatch will look red on a sofa (and why you should never do color on your wall without a consult from an expert).

I obsessively guarded against having anything in the house that did not have a use. All things had to be special and beautiful but nothing could be there only because it was special and beautiful.

When I told people I was decorating the house, they were happy for me. And worried for me. Because I am not going to make a living as a decorator. But the best answer to the question “What do you do?” is “Here’s what I’m passionately learning right now.”

If I had answered in a way that focused on my worries about not knowing where my career was going, then there would have been nothing to talk about. But when I answered in a way that revealed my excitement about the house and everything I was learning, then there was a lot to talk about.

I tell you this to show that everyone has trouble answering the question at some points in their life, but the more comfortable we are being lost, the faster we can get unlost, and this is a good example of why—you can tell yourself better stories about yourself.

So here are some steps to help you get better at the process of answering the question “What do you do?”

1. Understand the question.
Assume there is no hidden, evil agenda. Assume the person asking simply wants to know more about you. Of course, only people who have a good answer to the question themselves end up asking the question of others, but still, it’s a reasonable question.

2. Focus on a differentiator.
The problem with getting to know someone is that if you ask people, “What’s important to you?” you won’t learn anything. Because 90% of people will say things like family, friends, learning, being kind, or other routine things — the things, actually, that are on my refrigerator, in the first photo.

You get to know more about a person by asking how they spend their time. Because, while we all have similar goals (really, I bet the same few New Years Resolutions are made by 80% of all people) we all try to reach them in different ways.

This actually reminds me of the opening of Anna Karenina. “All happy families are the same, and each unhappy families is unhappy in different ways.” The modern version of that is “all goals for attaining a happy life are the same, but all the paths to not reaching those goals are misguided in different ways.”

So the question “What do you do?” is an attempt to find out what makes you different. Which means that everyone has an answer.

3. Don’t focus on your job.
This is not a job interview—it’s an attempt to get to know you so the person can connect with you. So you don’t need to go straight to your job for an answer. Some people have a job that does define them. Some people do not. Once you realize you can go either way on this, you can come up with the best answer for you.

4. Focus on where you spend your time and energy.
If you work at Starbuck’s to support your marathon training, you can say you’re training for a marathon. That is interesting and will immediately spark a fine conversation. Plus, you show that you are someone worth getting to know—you set challenging goals for yourself and you work hard to meet them.

5. Focus on what you are learning.
A career is not an earning path, it’s a learning path. So if you tell someone what you are learning about now, they will not actually care what your job is. What you choose to learn, and what interests you, actually says way more about you than the type of job you have. Some people learn a lot on their jobs, some people learn more away from their jobs. Where you learn is not as important as what you learn.

If you are not learning anything, and not doing anything special, ask yourself why. You can do anything in your free time. Make it matter.

6. Don’t be defensive
Remember that people are asking to be kind. They are trying to create a connection so that you can talk to each other about things that matter to both of you. Surely that is appealing to you as well. So be helpful with your answer by being vulnerable and forthcoming instead of defensive.

7. Ask about the other person.
Sometimes we get so stressed answering the question that we forget to actually make conversation. Ask the other person what he or she does. Then find common ground. At work or at a cocktail party or talking to someone we wish we didn’t have to talk to—being interested in both ourselves and in someone else is one of the most important things we can do.

Penelope Trunk, The Brazen Careerist: How to Answer the Question, "What do you do?"

Simply golden,

Thursday, December 09, 2010

2010 Goals Unattained? Game Not Over

With less than month until the curtain drops on 2010 and there’s a holiday cocktail of reasons to feel guilty about what you haven't done this year. The red kettle mafia partially-obstructing access into your favorite shops (well, I did say I would give more money), last night’s spiked eggnog with the Absolut BK ice cubes (thought I was counting calories), Rum cake slice 2.0, okay really 3.0 (I haven’t been to the gym since Labor Day), Vicki’s C plastic card purchases…on plastic, the friend-of-a-friend at the party bragging that he is now ‘triple-degreed’ … this list could go on forever.

If you find that your festive spirit is frequently interrupted by nagging-streams of consciousness this time of year, do not pout, do not cry, and do not shout (at the braggadocious brother)…it’s not his fault, and I’ll tell you why. You’re being haunted by the Ghost from January’s Goals-List Past.

“Give more to charity. Eat better. Work out more often. Get out of debt. Research and apply to grad school…”

Any of these tasks ring a Salvation Army holiday bell?

Before you recoil at this goal-life revelation in horror, let’s keep it “100”: while some of us spent 2010 checking our goals list – twice – others haven’t been racing to remind ourselves of what we haven’t yet done these past 11 + months! And we’re now feeling a tad bit like loser-ish because of it. Yet, because I have also felt this after skillfully avoiding my goals list and strategically-placed red “Donation” kettles, I can say: you’re not alone and you’re okay.

“Really,” you ask. Yup.

With just more than two weeks until 1.1.11, there is still value to be gained from the process of working toward your targets, even if you do not accomplish all of them or even all of one. You simply gotta hop off the self-guilt sleigh ride and shift your year-end game focus.

“Invest in the process, not in the outcome.” ~ Srikumar Rao
As I shared in a recent post, my new good friend (in my mind), Srikumar Rao, author of “Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful – No Matter What” penned this fabulous pearl of wisdom. Here is the full quote:

“By all means, work toward a goal, but stop fretting about outcomes. They’re beyond our control anyway. Invest in the process, not in the outcome. Accept the outcome, whatever it is, as joyfully as you can. This becomes a new starting point for you.”

In other words, place more value in the journey than the destination. Consider a woman who wants to drop 15 pounds in three months. She writes down her desire, thereby anointing it a “goal,” and lists steps to help her attain it. Yet, in the end, she falls short. Was all her work for naught? You may say yes before considering her journey. In order to lose 15 pounds (the desired outcome), the woman had to implement a series of lifestyle changes conducive to her losing weight (her process). So, while she didn’t lose the weight, after cutting out several foods and working out more, she felt more energized. In addition, she also noticed that skin issues she experienced since childhood had cleared up. Come to find out, the rashes were the result of a major yet undetected food allergy that she only discovered while undergoing the process of cutting certain unhealthy foods from her diet in order to lose weight.

So again, let me ask you: was her process for nothing? The food allergy discovery aside, what if the three-pound loss gave her enough confidence to try again over the next three months? What if her switch to eating healthier foods granted her enough energy to hit the gym more frequently? To try yoga? Running outdoors? Maybe, the three-pound loss, rather, more specifically, the steps she took to lose three pounds, were her new starting point, toward something bigger, better and greater.

Hopefully, you have surmised that reaching the destination isn’t nearly as important as what you encounter along the way, aka the journey. That’s investing in the process and not getting caught up on the outcome.
Transformation, growth, overcoming fears and developing confidence are a few of the benefits gleaned when we invest in the process of our lives. The key is to stick with your journey and to and learn from it what you can.

And a final note…
There is always the possibility that you have not sought to achieve your goals for other reasons, such as you no longer feel as led, energized or enthusiastic about those pursuits as you once did. Why could this happen? For starters, perhaps those desires were never yours to begin with and were birthed out of a need to fulfill expectations held by your parents, peers or spouse. Maybe an old insecurity (lack of education or money) prompted you to chase after goals you did not truly desire in the name of remaining competitive.

Whatever the case, the big gift (and who doesn’t love those this time of year?) is to be able to see and acknowledge that old goal for what it is – something that you once needed and no longer do! And, guess what, even if you never have reached said goal, this would be your “outcome”…and don’t feel bad about it. Instead, meditate on what you discovered about yourself along the way. Honor it and use it to guide you. For, as Rao says, “this will be your new starting pointing.”

And just in time for a new year!

Happy Hustling,

Monday, December 15, 2008

Obligatory Fun: Holiday Edition

While many employers in the free world have dumped the office holiday party in light of the current economic crisis, my C.S.S. (corporate slave ship) is plowing full speed ahead! Not only are we celebrating the holiday season this year (ack...I'll get to that soon), but my Wall Street firm is also on a hiring frenzy. Business is good for us. So let me go on record now as saying I am thankful and grateful.

Now... since we all have established that Cocoa is thankful and grateful to be employed, let's also assume that I am not some bitter employee who is jealous because I won't be snagging the walking papers and severance pay this year. You know, the things that actualizing passions, spending massive "me" time, traveling the world, and (ahem!) publishing your first manuscript are made of.... So, anyhow, yes, now that we're all in agreement that this Cocoa ain't bitter to punch the proverbial clock at 9:30a while her friends sleep 'til 11a, allow me to also go on record as saying "I SO do not wish to attend our Firm's holiday party."

Since I have become re-energized and serious about publishing my work, the current j-o-b is really just that for me. A place where I go to do some work and get paid. Why must I be forced to sacrifice my personal time to the obligatory fun gods with people who otherwise wouldn't make the slumber party list?

It may be foul of me, but Cocoa would also like to go on record this morning as saying that I'm happy for her current "cough, cough" thing. While it comes with a sore throat and raspy twang, today's budding sickness might just be the excuse needed to help me haul ass home directly after work tomorrow. No holiday "fun" for me? Bummer!

Cheers *terse smile*


Friday, December 12, 2008

Overheard on the Job

"I made a bet with my parents and I have to be 99 pounds by January
1st. I went to the doctor today and I'm up to 101!" (exclamation
point not mine!)

Cocoa, SMDH, Girl

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Your Purpose is Not a Profession...part deux.


*wipes my brow...mightily*

I'm presently in this wonderful "class" at my worship home covering this wonderfully amazing book that happens to cover topics such as our talents, our dreams, God's tailor-made plans for each of us to change this world, and how to embrace all of the above. In class last week, our pastor stated that a "calling is not a career." On Sunday, he stated "your purpose is not a profession."

As someone who has been rather, um, career obsessed, I struggled a bit to understand what he meant. So, I did what hopefully we all would do when we question, struggle with, or disagree with the validity of a point - especially whereas our spirituality is concerned - I asked for clarification. Below is some of what I found out. I hope it somehow helps you take a little pressure off yourself, too.


BTW, if you would like to view this full discussion, which was spawned by a young adult's question about two seemingly unrelated passions that she possesses, for Law and The Arts, befriend FCBC YAM on Facebook and read on!

* * *
[Your calling is not a 'career' - compliments of our youth and young adult pastor]

A calling is something that we all have if we believe that we are created by and are children of God. A calling CAN be understood in terms of passion, career/vocation, life's purpose; but should never be REDUCED to any such term.

It can involve your career, but is more than your career. Our careers can be the vehicles through which our callings are realized. I may have the same calling as a youth social worker who uses spiritual principles, but we have different careers/vocations that naturally manifest our callings. I truly believe that if we follow our callings (and if you don't know what that is...follow your true passions) we will end up in the "career/life work" that is right for us.

The difficulty is that we may not realize [our calling/career/life work] until the end! So we have to learn how to LIVE now!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When Beckies Attack

It's official, do not trust anybody named Becky, Amanda or Jen ESPECIALLY at work. Never!

Don't get Cocoa wrong - or get it twisted - it's not that I trust anyone on the job. Rather, more or less, I just don't give a damn in varying degrees. For example, brown-girl-me may let Susie Q. know that I'm not a fan of Bob Cobb's antics. Yet, whether Susie stays mum is neither here or there por moi. Once spoken, I detach from my words pretty easily. So it doesn't ruffle my feathers if somebody else wants to try them on for size.

What does irk the brown off me, however, are plain 'ol crazy, get-ahead-by-any-means-even-if-it-only-means-a-promo-to-head-shelf-duster mofos who would sever your throat for a pause-length pat on the back. Enter Becky...whose REAL name actually is Becky, ya know. Coincidental? Cocoa thinks not.

It's only week 5 and this chick has already tried to throw me under the Mack truck. NO exaggeration. Long story short, I recently joined her team to help its members with several market tours. At first, she suspciously held onto all projects but started trying to toss me a few bones once things began slipping through the cracks. Yesterday she delegates to me a new project (which I was supposed to be doing any damn way!) and asks that I send her a draft. I sent it to her. Then, chicky wanted me to stop by her desk for commentary/feedback...on a templated-paragraph, ya'll! Um...I. did. not. go. Heck, I was swamped, too! So, she wrote me back (key mental note) and stated that we could meet in the morning and distribute the draft.

La Manana comes and chica sends me some irate, faux-upset email about how the task was urgent and needed to be handled right away AND accused me of not managing my time effectively...all in writing! She basically tried to paint me a lazy you-know-what who failed to negotiate a deadline. Whether in anger or sheer stupidity, senorita forgot one important fact: her heiferish-behind emailed me - with smileys! -stating that the project was not a rush. Sooo...all I had to do is respond with utter "confusion" and gladly redirect her gaze toward our email chain from the previous its entirety!

Aww, yes...cut and paste is Cocoa's latest BFF, that is, right after my girl 'CC.'

It's kind of sad, though. I cannot for the life of me figure out what made this Becky go bananas! I do not have ANY hopes or desires to get promoted into her spot, nor am I competitive with this chick. *smdh* ya'll...*smdh.*

Cocoa, La Clueless

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Temporarily Annoyed

My faux coworkers have me quite agitated today. One is sickly, which is not bothersome in and of itself. Yet the way she keeps spreading negativity into our partially sunny, unseasonably warm, 60-plus degrees in early March existence is enough to make Cocoa cut her with my eyes. Her illness does not require all that gloom and doom. I am sickly and awaiting my physical healing as well, but damn. Give us a break, please. She said she sees no hope. I replied things will get better to which girly actually copped an attitude with me. I'll be damned if I try that again. Perhaps next time she says it is all over, I will quip "Yeah, you probably should start doing all those things you always wanted to do in life but never got the chance to do...PRONTO!!!!"

Next up: Little Miss STBF... who, by the way, actually deserves to be fired. I previously discounted her boss, Anna Wintour-not!, as cruel and conniving for attempting to replace her vacationing assistant with temporary-worker me. Weeks later, I still do not want the job; however, it appears that her current assistant does not want it either. She never completes tasks when requested and/or required (thanks Facebook & MySpace). AWN (high, high, high-ranking executive) has to hound her for updates, which girly never has in tow. She fails to handle the most-simple tasks on a daily basis. It boggles the mind that sweetie is still the tune of about $80K/year, mind you.

I guess (private) education really does pay.

Is it really only Tuesday,
Cocoa Girl

Friday, February 29, 2008

Gotta be a C4UC Classic!

Cocoa has been on the verge of tears since arriving to work this morning, for two very different reasons. One is a better suited for the other blog, while the second reason has can’t be real/gotta be a script written all over….

The Scene: The “Industry” (Entertainmentland for the unassuming)
Characters: High-maintenance, high-level female executive; her assistant and her assistant’s assistant (Moi-Moi!)
Act 1: HMHLFE is “accidentally” running late for a meeting on her floor with fellow Industry bigwigs who stood her up the previous week.

HMHLFE leaves her office & approaches the HA’s desk; HAA (me-me!) looks on…

(Dropping her Grande Skinny Latte on the desk, an EMPTY-HANDED Bosslady chimes)
“HA –Will you follow me in the conference room with this…please?”

(HA, on the verge of WTF???) “Um, sure…no problem…?”

HMHLFE leads the way toward the glass walls & door enclosed conference room. A confused HA kung-fu grips the Starbucks like the Holy Grail and trails closely behind.

Upon reaching the glass-walled conference room brimming with Industry bigwigs, HMHLFE enters and lets the door (also glass a.k.a. see-through!) slam in HA’s face.

A confused (facially bruised?) HA struggles to let herself in the door and stumbles inside embarassed. Scurrying toward her big shot, she drops the cup and runs back to her desk – still confused as to what transpired.

Only in the Cubicle World, kids. Only in the Cubicle World.

TGTT (Thank God This is Temporary!)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Empathy: Need Not Apply

While I have much sympathy for little Miss STBF, empathy, which requires a good amount of identification, is something that Cocoa clearly cannot afford to offer homegirl.

Looming termination, dissatisfactory job performance and new resumes confidentially (hand) delivered to Bosslady abound, and girly still has enough trust (naivete?) and confidence (money) to buy a $3,000 camera.

No, she is not a freelance photographer. She does dream of becoming one (try again). And, no, she is not enrolled in a photography class, visually chronicling the last days of her dying grandmother. She simply takes pictures as a h...o...b...b...y.

Wish I could reckon my need for a steady income to a matter of frolic.

Cocoalicious, nutritious!