Saturday, May 28, 2011

Confessions of a Travel Junkie

Site of my next vacation - Costa Rica

I want to confess to you all that I am a travel junkie...which is unfortunately an oxymoron in the US since we Americans get basically zero vacation time in comparison to other countries around the world - in my case, a measly 10 days (and 2 personal days woo!).

Let's look at the basic facts. In addition to a few national holidays, the average American gets two to three weeks off per year. But (and there is always a but), a recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 57% of workers use all of their vacation days, compared with a 89% of workers in France. [CNN]

This concept BOGGLES my mind. Here are my facts. I get 12 vacation days and a handful of long weekends off from work. I'm going to use all those days to get to as many places as I possibly can. In 2011 alone, I have traveled already to New Zealand and just purchased a ticket to Costa Rica. Why? Because I have vacation time and I plan to use it.

To me, it's all about time budgeting. I'm lucky enough to live near my family so I don't need to take time off to fly anywhere for Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. But my family and I do sometimes go away for the holidays. In which case, we usually don't take time off to do so. Holiday weekends are perfect for traveling around the US, Canada or Mexico. Just this past Thanksgiving, my family and I went to Toronto for 4 days just to explore the city and do something different than sit at home and carve a turkey. Last Memorial Day weekend, my Dad and I took my sister to Nashville for her birthday.

We save the big vacations for taking time off work. My trip to New Zealand cost me 5 days of work, my trip to Costa Rica will be 4, and then I will take an odd day off here and there for weddings.

And at the end of the year, I will have zero (maybe even some negative) hours left to take off. But it will be worth it because I will have seen new parts of the world and taken days away from my desk. Because honestly it's not just about seeing the world and experiencing new things. It's about taking time away from the people, the office drama, the work piling up on your desk. It's about getting away for a while and not thinking about it. And everyone needs time to do that.

It is your right as an employee to take your time off. And even if it's just to sit at home and watch TV, I seriously get heated when I hear people say they have time rolling over to the next year because that means that they spent almost the entire year chained to their desk. And that's just not healthy.

WG1 actually sent me this article from CNN on why America is the "no-vacation nation". And it quoted John de Graaf, the national coordinator for Take Back Your Time, a group that researches the effects of overwork and he is quoted as saying, "There is simply no evidence that working people to death gives you a competitive advantage." Apparently the US came in 4th in the World Economic Forum's 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive economies. 4th! We were outranked by Sweden - a country that offers workers 5 weeks of paid vacation!

This to me is proof enough that we need to take back control of our vacation by simply taking vacations where we don't need to answer the phone or check our email or be in touch with people at the office.

Either that, or move to Sweden.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cruel Summer

by Working Girl One

Remember summer vacations?

I don't think I've had a proper summer vacation since the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. But even when I was working my Working Girl tush off to earn money for college, I at least had a full week off to spend at the Jersey Shore with my family.

(And no, where we go is NOT AT ALL like Jersey Shore you see on MTV.)

This summer, no such vacation will be happening for this girl. At my new company, I have two weeks vacation that earn over the course of the year. And I haven't earned much of it yet. At my last company, I had earned three weeks. I tried to negotiate for another week but being unemployed and all didn't really give me the upper hand. To top that off, at my new job we have two busy seasons and one happens to be during the summer.

So instead of enjoying a full week off, I'll spend the two weekends that cover my family's trip with them and the boyfriend and I have a wedding to attend and a short weekend trip planned. A few mini-vacations in better than nothing, right?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Working Girl Travel Tip: Express Lane

Now, I don't know how true this is or if the airlines have caught on but I spotted the below travel tip on Tumblr yesterday and had to share. It's worth trying, right?

From Simply Jess on Tumblr:

How To Cheat The ‘Boarding By Zone’ System

A friend of mine recently taught me this genius trick and it’s worked every single time I’ve flown. Ya’ll have to try it.

Let’s suppose you have a carry-on size bag that you don’t want to check. Baggage fees are ridiculous, waiting 30 minutes at baggage claim is annoying, and you risk the possibility of the airline losing your bag. Problem is, if you carry the bag on and you’re in boarding zone 4, all the overhead bin space will undoubtedly be full by the time you actually get on the plane, and you’ll be forced to check your bag. Not cool. Here’s where the trick comes in.

When you check-in online, be sure to have the boarding pass sent to your mobile device via text or email. It will look like the picture above. Then, when they start to call boarding zones, just board with the rest of the zone 1 people (even if you’re boarding pass says zone 4 below the QR code). Put your phone under the scanner and walk on confidently. The QR code cell phone images are not integrated with the airline zoning systems. The gate agent will NOT stop you and tell you to board with your own zone and you will NOT have to check your bag. It’s fool-proof.

Let’s just hope the airlines don’t start to catch on.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Corner Office Dreamin'

by PR Working Girl

I would love a corner office in a gorgeous high rise building. My corner office neighbors would be stalwart, admirable, yet friendly people who I can't believe I get to call my peers. I'd have a shiny wood desk with silver-framed pictures of my family and all the exotic vacations we've been to over the years. I'd have an unlimited supply of letter-pressed business cards that boldly stated my title: Chief Executive Officer.

A Working Girl can dream, right?

Well, we are still young and we can certainly prepare ourselves to make this kind of dream a reality. But how? What sort of characteristics should we be working on to be considered CEO material, say, about 20 years from now? It's never too early to start thinking about this!

According to Adam Bryant, author of The New York Times "Corner Office" column, there are five main qualities that current CEOs agree make a good employee (which I'm sure we think we already are) really stand out as someone who's got the potential to GO PLACES. Below, I've outlined them briefly adding a few of my own thoughts.

Passionate curiosity - Well, I always knew "passion" and "curiosity" were good qualities to list on your resume, but put them together and bam! They have a whole new meaning. I like how Bryant compares those with passionate curiosity to a 5 year old, someone who is truly interested in how the world around them works. That's how we should be about our industry, our clients, our roles, the strategy, the processes, our competitors.

Battle-hardened confidence - Here is another combo description, it's not just confidence anymore, but it has to be battle-hardened. Makes me feel like I should dress up as a Braveheart warrior or something. Good old fashioned confidence just isn't enough anymore, it's not the kind of confidence that will carry you through failure and adversity, which are two things hiring managers love to quiz you on during interviews. Personally, I hate thinking about my failures, let alone talking about them. Talk about a confidence bust. Yeah, I need to work on this one.

Team smarts - This has got to be one of the hardest traits to come by. There are so many smart people out there who are hard workers, but terrible team members. And honestly, I think we all fall in the terrible category every now and then, no? And we blame it on somebody else on the team. Bryant quotes Susan Lyne, CEO of the Gilt Groupe who I think says it perfectly: "The people who truly succeed in business are the ones who actually have figured out how to mobilize people who are not their direct reports."

A simple mind-set - So often we complicate things because we think it will make ourselves appear smarter, when in reality we are frustrating those around us and wasting precious time. I think it's funny how older generations often give younger ones a bad rap for texting and using Twitter, but I think it's kind of a good thing. Consider this amazing op-ed article, also found in The New York Times, by an English professor. He proposes shorter, simpler (not to be mistaken with "easier") writing assignments instead of always assigning the standard 10+-page term papers; think photo captions and eBay descriptions. Interesting, huh? He says, "Rewarding concision [and may I add, simplicity] first will encourage students to be economical and innovative with language."

Fearlessness - Not me. Ha. I can't kill a spider. I hate sports because I'm afraid of getting hurt (a black eye from playing softball during junior high P.E. class is a completely valid reason, right?). In this case, fearlessness is more about smart and calculated risk-taking in the workplace, so how would you rate yourself in this area? Bryant says entrepreneurs are a good example of embodying a type of fearlessness. Well, I do consider myself entrepreneurial since I currently work from home running my own PR business. OK, I feel a little better now.

So, do you think you've got CEO potential?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm Sorry I'm Sorry

by Working Girl One

Do you ever feel like you're being a huge annoyance to the people you work with? Like you're stalking people via email? It's the story of my life recently and I always feel bad about it.

At work, this never used to be a problem. Maybe because I was at my last job for so long that I was very comfortable. I knew my role and the roles of the people I worked with. Sure, every now and then an email started with "apologies for..." but everyone does that. Right?!

Lately, I feel like I'm always apologizing. I've been working on a big project in an area that is new to me. There have been a lot of growing pains. A lot. I've been apologizing to the vendor who is executing the day-to-day of the project, the internal people in my company of whom I've asked dozens of questions, my co-workers, my boss.

There is no reason for me to be apologizing. Especially to the vendor working on the project. The vendor is working for me and I might be a PIA but isn't that pretty much a pre-req for being the client?

This was something that came up at my last job. Working on events, you sometimes have to be a bit stern and harsh with the vendors you're working with. It's something I've always had a problem with. Maybe it's because I like being liked or don't want to be a bitch or that I let sympathy take over.

Too often I put myself in the vendors' shoes and think "they are working really hard, if it were me I'd want the client to be nice to me." But I should be thinking "if I were in their shoes, I'd be doing x, y and z to make this perfect for my client." Over time, I think, I hope, I've gotten a bit better (and I definitely still have some room for improvement).

For last week or so I've stopped myself every time I've typed "I'm sorry" or "apologies for" because really, I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry I didn't get to your email yesterday, I was swamped and it wasn't a priority. I'm not sorry I'm following up for the third time on something that should have been completed by now.

I still have to make a conscious effort not to apologize, but hopefully, I'm on the right track.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mixing Coworkers and Chasers

by Editing Working Girl

Another Cinco de Mayo has come and gone as have the celebrations that come with it. Add on other 'American drinking holidays' like St. Patrick's Day and really anything having to do with sporting events and there is the potential to be a Working Girl Mess.

I attend a lot of networking events as a freelancer, and as I am representing myself, I usually only drink one glass of wine (and instead double up on the business cards). Then there are times when I am representing my company at blog conferences or events like SXSW with the parties and cocktail hours and concerts and the lines between coworkers and friends are blurred, along with the amount I may have had to drink.

As a runner, I don't usually get into awkward alcohol situations, because I am usually training for a race and avoiding it altogether. Even so, there are times where I do drink in front of coworkers. Next week, for example, we have a team outing scheduled involving a tour of the city, on a "bus" of sorts that is powered by us - by pedaling - while drinking beer and wine.

Here comes my question for fellow Working Girls: what is the appropriate amount to drink on this afternoon excursion? What about at Happy Hours or other company networking events?

I usually avoid this situation by simply keeping my relationship with coworkers professional. Personally, I don't want my coworkers to know how much I drank the other night or how I look when I dance downtown or even what my drink of choice is. Have any of you had an embarrassing Working Girl story that involved alcohol?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So I Moved

by Working Girl One

In college Working Girl Two and I were of the first of our friends to intern and live in the big city. We thought were so cool because, well, we were. OK, we probably weren't.

Spending the summer living and working in Manhattan immediately established us as city girls. We were going to graduate, get awesome jobs at magazines, live in awesome apartments and soak up each other's awesomeness (name that movie).

Instead, we moved to a not-so-awesome apartment in Hoboken and were working as assistants in Manhattan. Not exactly the city and not exactly glamorous jobs. Still, we were honorary city girls.

A year later I moved to the city and thought I was there to stay. Another year later, the boyfriend and I moved in together to a lovely fifth floor walk-up on the Upper East Side. We were on the track to stay in Manhattan forever. And by forever, I mean, until my first kid had to go to preschool. I had no intentions of dealing with the shenanigans of getting a 3-year-old into glorified day care on the Upper East Side.

I thought I'd work my way up in the publishing world, make a decent living and gallivant around like a real New Yorker.

Then, I lost my job and the boyfriend got a new one in Connecticut. After I started working again, we decided the right thing to do was move out of the city and closer to his job. I couldn't believe myself when I said the words: "we should move to Connecticut." My friends couldn't either. "I can't picture you anywhere but New York!" was the reaction I received from most of them when I broke the news.

Cue mini quarter-life identity crisis. Thinking of myself as a "city girl" for a few years, I expected to feel different as a "Bridge and Tunneler," -- like I didn't belong in the city anymore or had lost my New York street cred. But apart from maybe being more tired, I feel the same and am not-so-secretly enjoying my suburban life.

Sure, my commute is longer but I have time to read again and I come home to a spacious apartment with a dishwasher AND a washer/dryer. I no longer have a bodega across the street to pick up milk (and Ben & Jerry's) but I have a huge supermarket and I can pack my groceries in a car. Despite having a longer commute, I feel like I have more of a life, an adult life here. It's hard to explain. Maybe it's the nice apartment or that we made a (relatively) big life decision together, but I really feel like a grown up.

I do missing living in Manhattan but I still get my daily fix of the city Monday through Friday and with occasional weekend trips. And yes, it is sometimes frustrating to leave happy hour early to catch the train but, I must say, I'm happy with our choice and my "Bridge and Tunneler" status.