Thursday, August 20, 2009

Keep Your Femininity in the Workplace

Yes, you can be a strong woman, a powerful professional and still retain your femininity in the workplace. Femininity doesn’t equate to sexuality, nor does it mean you only wear frilly clothes with lots of lace and pink flowers. Femininity means responding to your intuition, to your capacity for caring/nurturing and to your ability to multi-task. Femininity also means you stay true to yourself and that you embrace your authentic self. In other words, don’t try to be like the guys just because you think they will like you more or that you’ll be promoted faster.

Connie Cwik is a corporate coach for 20+ years and when she was working for Microsoft was responsible for building a strong team between Microsoft and GM. As a result, Microsoft’s rating on the coveted GM Strategic Vendor Scorecard from 16th to 2nd – in just 36 months. I had the pleasure of meeting Connie at the Coffee and Contacts Power Lunch at Brio Tuscan Grill on Friday, August 14th where she gave an energetic talk on “Femininity in the Workplace.” Dressed in a pale pink jacket with a bias-cut floral cut and pink shoes before the crowd of over fifty women, Connie stressed to the group, “We as women have a way to connect at a different level than men. When you give up your femininity, you give up your power.”

Connie further emphasized how women need to acknowledge their gifts and their strengths that make them great. “Femininity is not a weak term at all! Being feminine means being a lover to your husband or partner, a nurturer and a best friend to all of your girlfriends.”

I also see that acknowledging one’s femininity means setting boundaries and knowing that it’s OK to not do work (if you work for yourself) between the hours of 4-9pm so you can pick up your kids, make dinner and put the kids to bed. Now if you work in a traditional workspace, you need to know it’s OK to leave at 5 or 5:30 to pick up the kids from daycare and not be made to feel guilty that you’re not sharing your weight. You need to know that you put 110% into your work and that you are productive and focused. Before I had kids I worked for a company that made working mothers feel guilty when they didn’t come in on Saturdays or stay till 7pm every night. A few women were on a flexible schedule (coming in at 7:30 and leaving at 4:30), but their bosses didn’t treat them with respect. No one complained because they were scared about losing their job. Of course no one was happy. Studies show that work places that allow for flexibility increase their productivity and morale. In any case, my old company experienced high turnover because many women braver than myself left to seek better working conditions. Since those dark days, I’ve sought a life-family balance and that includes working for myself and not trying to be somebody I’m not.

But with whatever career path women choose, they need to know that they have special gifts that come with being a woman. These gifts include intuition, nurturing and multi-tasking. Intuition is important so you may attract the best business partners and the best clients for you. Nurturing increases morale and employee retention. Connie gave an example of how she repurposed her employee “Paul” from one job into another, rather than firing him because he was a valuable employee who just wasn’t in the right position for his skill set. Because of her attention to his situation, Paul still keeps in touch with Connie years later. Lastly, multi-tasking makes women more productive and focused and allows them to handle stressful situations with grace and aplomb.

Connie concluded, “The only way we can keep the family-life balance is to be authentic to who we are and that means that we don’t all have to be the same!” I took this to mean that women should stop comparing themselves with other women and pay attention to their own thresholds and pain tolerances. Some moms with three children can do more than some moms with one kid and you know what? And that’s OK! But above all, we need to stop wishing we didn’t have family obligations or emotions so the powers that be could like us better. We need to be who we are (women who care about others and family!), set realistic long-term goals (i.e. not try to be superwomen), and celebrate our feminine powers which set us apart from the guys!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Child of the South Book Review

Child of the South Child of the South by Joanna Catherine Scott

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
Full of rich language, passion and tension, Joanna Catherine Scott’s Child of the South continues the story of her characters from The Road to Chapel Hill. Her new novel is set in the years immediately following the Civil War told from the point of view of two star-crossed lovers: 24-year-old Eugenia Mae Spotswood, the assumed white daughter of a failed Wilmington businessman and now a nurse for the Freedman's Bureau, and Tom, a former slave who owns a large farm outside Chapel Hill. They initially met as mistress and slave; Eugenia gave Tom his freedom papers and after capture he eventually became a scout for the Union army under the leadership of a dashing mulatto, Abraham Galloway, who taught him the importance of standing up for himself, as well as how to read and write. Galloway is an actual historical figure who died under mysterious circumstances, which Scott fictionalized in her book.

More than anything, Eugenia wants to find her birth mother, whom she knows still lives around Wilmington. This woman was her father's black mistress. Eugenia has a chance to stay in Chapel Hill, but she knows she must find her mother and discover who she really is. Seeing Eugenia as a mixed race person was especially hard for me. We learn that Eugenia has very curly, unruly hair, but other than that, there aren't many clues. No one suspects she could have any black blood in her, not even her Confederate cousins in Wilmington, where she lives for four years after the Civil War. I wanted her to be darker, or at least see something about herself that she knows is different.

Eugenia's story is told in the first person and Tom's is in third person, which is really the only way that all of the historical perspectives can be discussed since Eugenia can't always be in the same place as the decision makers at every turn. However, Eugenia is a catalyst in her own right by balancing historical accuracy. Scott does a great job of making sure Eugenia doesn't go too far beyond historical prejudice between blacks and whites, although at times I was wondering if Eugenia wasn't just a little too liberal. The point of view shifts are divided by chapter so there's no reader confusion and I liked this since I always felt I knew what was coming.

Scott's strengths are with the accurate sensory details of this time and place and with the language. I love how she uses "fell to" a great deal and how she doesn't overdo the African American dialect. Her dialogue is sharp and the details set the tone without being overdone. However, I would have liked to have seen more action and a quicker pace throughout the book and less sitting around talking about the future. Because of the leaps in time there was a great deal of summary, which Scott handled well. However, I would have liked to experience a fight with the Klan or a narrow escape; I always felt that most of the good action happened off stage.

As for the characters, I liked the secondary characters rather than the primaries. Clyde Bricket is an amputee and Tom's former owner and now business partner/fellow farmer and he's very interesting. So is Christopher Clark-Compton, Eugenia's cousin who wants to be her husband. He's not very savory, but he does have his gentler moments. The heroes in the book: Eugenia, Abraham, Tom did seem a little too perfect, but that being said Eugenia had the best voice. We really could experience what 1865 felt like from her point of view. Scott never shies away from addressing post Civil War politics, so we see the great class and race divide that still haunts us to this day.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Going Above and Beyond Book Review

Going Above and Beyond Going Above and Beyond by Katharine C. Giovanni

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Going Above and Beyond by Katharine Giovanni surveys lead concierges in the hospitality industry on how to exhibit the best customer service possible in business and in your personal life. This book's audience is entrepreneurs, concierges and anyone else who wants to know more about delivering exceptional customer service.
Giovanni divides the book into fifteen chapters, of which she has eleven interviews which discuss topics such as professional image, handshakes, international protocol and more. Many themes are repeated throughout the book such as being nice to customers, never say no, and do whatever the customer needs. I used to be in retail and many of these concepts in Giovanni's book are not new to me and I wished she could have delved into more detail, especially in the communications and international protocol, which was probably her most interesting chapter. For instance, I didn't know that the British think its rude to talk with your hands in your pockets or that feet are considered unclean in South Africa and India.
I loved it when Giovanni would share her customer service horror stories with us such as when she and her boys drove up to a very rude manager at the Drive Thru or when she received a rude man on the phone who wanted to speak to the boss (Giovanni is the boss, along with her husband, Ron). I could have enjoyed more of these personal anecdotes rather than have eleven interviews which really didn't say anything new or fresh. I also wanted more insight into email, speech, dress, posture and speaking. Perhaps she could have listed 10 things of not to do on a voice mail outgoing message or what not to do in an email.
Overall, this is a quick read that emphasizes how important customer service is to grow and sustain your business. My favorite line from Giovanni is, "I return everyone's email lightning fast, even when I'm on the road...this simple thing has done more for growing my business than almost anything I've done." Great advice how important it is to be nice!

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Women Embracing Creativity Book Review

Women Embracing Creativity: Unleashing Your Inner Artist Women Embracing Creativity: Unleashing Your Inner Artist by Christina Thompson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Christina Thompson's Women Embracing Creativity: Unleashing Your Inner Artist does an excellent job of bringing together tips on motivation, creativity concepts, fear of success, making room for creativity and more. In one book you can discover how to set time aside for yourself and how to begin your creative practice which can be dancing, fine arts, writing, singing and more! I have so many books in my library that cover these same subjects, but in Christina's there are all in one source and they are built upon and thoroughly investigated. This book is a companion to Christina Thompson's 8 week Creativity Course she teaches several times a year, but it can certainly stand on its own and does. Christina also includes specific homework exercises such as logging your successes, starting a gratitude journal and paying attention to what's around you.

I can't talk enough about how wonderful and encouraging this book can be for emerging artists. Christina weaves in personal stories, academic references and solid results-oriented solutions for when you feel stuck. She encourages her female readers to stop being an Artist-in-Hiding and stop doing everything for your family. Be creative and be yourself! But I like that she doesn't just say be selfish with your needs and totally ignore your family, either. Instead she tells us to communicate with our families our creative needs and make sure everything is out in the open.

I know in my busy life, I have to make sure that I tell my husband what's going on in my week so there are no surprises in our schedule, and sometimes he wishes he wouldn't have to take care of the kids all day or all weekend. But I have to work at my success and at my career and that involves spending time away from home occasionally. I also try to not have two night events two days in a row so I can be there for my family. Sure my writing career is important but not at the expense of my family. All artists have to know how to balance work and family since we live with being an artist all of the time. It's a lifestyle and not something we leave at door like most traditional W-2 jobs.

One of the points Christina stresses is that successful artists must practice. Do you think Rob Thomas just started singing "Smooth" that first time and it was perfect? I don't think so. Or did a beautiful painting emerge from the first series of brushstrokes? No! A masterpiece emerges only from returning to the canvas, or to the page, or to the dance floor again and again. Chistina also encourages emerging artists to find a great teacher/mentor who guides them on their way. The ones who fail are the ones who don't put the work in and stay glued to the world of ideas. Christina also does a great job of breaking down fear and enumerating the excuses artists make when they don't want to get a project going. After all, who wants to start something that you know will not be perfect because you're new at it? Christina stresses that it takes dedication and commitment to follow through on your dreams and nurture the seeds of creativity.

She also talks about how parents tell their kids not to be artists because this lifestyle isn't "safe" and that's why so there are so many would-be artists who haven't found their path yet. This point I could totally relate to and why I volunteer so much with young people who want to be writers.

Thank you, Christina, for writing this book for all artists and artists to-be. This book is must-have reading.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

How to Say No to Fear

We’ve all had a case of “I don’t wannas” or “I’m too tired” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Feeling these impulses as we’re working on any kind project is perfectly normal, but do we push on and complete it? Or do we give in to fear? Don’t you notice that you usually procrastinate when you’re faced with something that you know will be time-intensive or with something that doesn’t yet feel comfortable to you?
I faced a case of the “don’t wannas” this week when I had to work on a new brochure and when I had to create my newsletter. I finished both projects because of my self-imposed deadlines, but I wished I had approached my work with more enthusiasm and had started them earlier. I realize now that I dragged my feet on both the brochure and newsletter since I know I could be judged on my work. Someone might spot a mistake I made and call me out on it. Someone could tell me that I’m not a very good writer/editor if I can’t make everything perfect in my work! But I didn’t let my fear win. I scrunched up my face, turned on Bob Seger and let the work “Roll Me Away.” It’s interesting that this fear of creating anything new can prevent you from completing your project. It’s sometimes called “The Fear of Success,” which is a recognized phobia. According to Michelle Courtney, editor of Triangle (business to business) blog, “Usually the people who have this fear the worst have no idea they have it!” Courtney spoke about the Fear of Success at last Friday’s Final Friday Forum, sponsored by Dancing Elephants at the BNC (Business Networking Center) of Cary.
I know that as a creative person I can deal with my fears and conquer them, but this may not be true of others who are just discovering their creative talents. They are undertaking something new and they may fear failure. They may feel that they lack support from their family and friends. Or they may be afraid of making mistakes. Courtney adds, “We’re taught at a young age that failure isn’t a good thing, so we’re not taught to learn from our mistakes. This kind of thinking makes us inert.” And inertia keeps us in place, leaving us unable to achieve our dreams.
Christina Thompson of Summerglen Music wrote this about fear in her new book, Women Embracing Creativity: Unleashing Your Inner Artist.
Just as the pioneers faced attackers on their westward journeys, we may easily be ambushed by fear as we try new things. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to identify fear for what it really is. Here are some common disguises fear wears when it tries to sneak into the lives of creative people:
1. needing to be in control
2. tolerating unhealthy situations and people
3. being resistant to change
4. creating unnecessary clutter, busy-ness or drama
5. making excuses; rationalizing
6. avoiding the problem
7. trying to manipulate others
8. procrastinating
Are you nodding your head at all or any of these? I know that in the past (and probably today, too) I’ll get so busy to avoid dealing with certain things. I’m also trying hard not to procrastinate on projects that aren’t the easiest to start.
So what can you do to lessen your fears? Michelle Courtney and Christina Thompson both suggest you write down specific goals, establish why a goal is important to you and show up every day despite the fear. That means practicing, doing the work, even if it’s not 100% perfect. Courtney says, “Play Devil’s Advocate and ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen?” I say “To Do” lists and concrete deadlines are a God-send.
I know it’s not easy to get out there when we could easily do the same old thing, but don’t you want to be known as someone who is stronger than her fears? I know I do.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Blind Prophet Book Review

The Blind Prophet (Invisible War) The Blind Prophet by Dr. Larry Richards

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Honestly, I was a little hesitant when Alice asked me to review The Blind Prophet. Considering the extremity of fantasy it might contain made me cautious when I began to read it. However, The Blind Prophet proves to capture the reader, even during the first few chapters. After doing some research, I discovered that Dr. Larry Richards is a renowned author, and Book 1 and Book 2 of the Invisible War series will be coming out this summer.
The Blind Prophet is a fantasy fiction novel about the religious invisible war between Satan’s army of demons and God’s army of angels. However complex it may sound, Richards does a superb job of simplifying the concept without losing his reader’s interest.
The main character, Zaki, is one of few to survive a horrific Babylonian raider attack on his village. After his entire family is brutally murdered, Zaki is left alive, yet blinded. His eyesight isn’t the only thing that is left blinded, but his faith in God is as well. Abandoning God makes Zaki the village’s recluse. Fifty years after the attack, an angel visits Zaki and he introduces him to the Invisible War. They travel together through the spiritual world observing key points of the war. While gaining the knowledge of the war, the angel reveals that God has an important mission for Zaki. As Zaki takes the journey to rebuild his faith, he works to fulfill this mission as one of God’s prophets.
Although this book is a work of fiction, it includes valid information from the Books of Ezekiel and Daniel. Richards gives life to these books, weaving them into his well-crafted novel. I thoroughly enjoyed Richards’s engaging and interesting novel, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for more than your average fantasy novel.

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Keep On Keeping On Book Review

Keep On Keeping On Keep On Keeping On by Jean Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When reading the synopsis of Keep On Keeping On, one would assume this book to be your average inspirational story that you hope to pick you up off your feet. However, this is a story of two parents’ and their sons’ journey through addiction and the fight for justice. I was compelled to keep going from the author’s tone, which anyone could relate to. Her simple jargon makes it easy for the average reader to understand, eventhough the content is deep and complex.
This is a story of Ron Davis, a charismatic young man who struggled to beat a twelve year addiction to drugs, only to be brutally murdered at the age of thirty-nine. His parents, Brooks and Jean Davis, born and raised in the South, at first viewed his addiction as sinful. As dedicated Baptists in a small town, it was hard for either of them to comprehend the severity of Ron’s addiction. However, Jean’s unfailing faith shows throughout her writing and in every situation Ron put them in.
Keep On Keeping On goes extensively into the Davis’s family history, pride, and small town reputation. Jean repeatedly says throughout the book, “We had to swallow our pride” in order to help Ron overcome his addiction. This information may seem unnecessary during the reading, but as the reader approaches the end of the book, it is evident that all the little stories about small town life and family history all tie into Ron’s addiction. Family pressures, girlfriend issues, and competition also contributed to Ron becoming addicted to drugs in the first place.
After going through many difficult stages in Ron’s life, including many trips to rehabilitation centers and rebuilding his faith in God, it seems as if Ron was finally going in the right direction. With supportive parents by his side, Ron starts his new life, only to be brutally murdered. As if this tragedy wasn’t hard enough on the family, Jean and Brooks suffered through many years of struggle to gain justice for their son’s sake. This story exemplifies how flawed the American court system can be, and how much Jean and Brooks sacrificed for justice.
Keep On Keeping On is an inspirational story simple enough to be the perfect summer read. I recommend this book to anyone looking for extraordinary pick-me-up book that dives deep into the complexity of addiction and struggle for justice.

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This review was written by my intern, Dana, and you'll see much more from her soon!