Friday, February 15, 2013

I am woman, hear me roar!

As women, we have many recent achievements to celebrate.  For example, after the 2012 election,  Congress now has 20 female senators and 77 congresswomen---an amazing record-breaking number of women!
I recently received a letter from one of these women. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez sent a letter announcing the 
full integration of women into the military. The letter included the following description of Congresswoman Sanchez : “founder and co-chair of the Women in the Military Caucus and…highest ranked female on the House Armed Services Committee.”  I couldn’t help but feel that her presence in the Congress as a woman and a leader, along with the other women in government, help shape policy to even the playing field between men and women.  Receiving her letter at the eve of Woman’s History Month could not be more fitting.
I discovered recently that I have a renewed interest in helping women achieve, thrive and advance.  I started at work first. Just like in College when I was a member of the Women’s Club, I’ve taken advantage of  my company's Team Member Networks which are sort of like those college clubs you see on campus but for employees. The chapter hosted a viewing of the movie Miss Representation which shows the way the media negatively portrays women in movie s and television and how this impacts the way women are perceived at work and society.
 I decided to step up my involvement in the Women Team Member network after seeing that film and borrowed a great idea right from it. We hosted a “speed mentoring” event where senior leaders had the opportunity to share their career journey with other women. Working with a partner, I helped launch a formal mentorship program for women so that we can help each other reach our career goals. 
More recently, I was moved by a book called “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that documents the severe and implorable conditions many women all over the world live including fighting gang rape and torture.  Also included in the book are inspiring stories of women overcoming unimaginable circumstances to help fellow women improve their lives.  This book moved me so much that I decided to see if I could do more to help women in my community. My friends and I are planning fundraisers to send money to some of the organizations featured in the book to help women internationally. I hope I can do more.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Let's be honest

As with most new ventures I partake in, I was really excited and motivated when I started “My Fitness Pal”—the online tool to count calories and track work-outs. I was encouraged when I noticed a change in the way my clothes was fitting. I was thrilled when “the little black dress” that was collecting dust in my closet hugged my body in the perfect way just in time for me to wear it to a fundraiser that I was chairing. I was ecstatic to take the stage!
But then came Thanksgiving and with it my discipline.  Or maybe it was as early as Halloween where I “fell off the wagon.”   As soon as the end of October came around, I found myself giving in to high-calorie drinks and treats at Halloween parties, post-Halloween birthday parties, pre-Thanksgiving parties and then some post-Thanksgiving parties.  I completely stopped logging in my food and exercise and got lost in the day-to-day happenings of life.
Aware of my slip, I write this to share that staying fit and in shape IS NOT EASY.  But it is okay to slip and be human and participate in the breaking of bread and toasting of glasses without beating yourself up. Speaking for myself, I know I can find myself comparing my body and clothing size to other women thinking “they must have it so easy.” But I know it is not the case. It takes work and discipline and will to make fitness and health a priority.   
These past two weeks have been better. I started running more and was lucky to win a discounted registration to the New Year’s half-marathon in early 2013. Having a race to look forward to always re-news my energy and spirit for running.  For any of you on this constant journey for health and fitness, I hope that if you find yourself slipping, you take comfort in knowing it happens to us all!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Counting Calories

Since my early twenties, I have generally always found a way to incorporate exercise into my life. At times, I was really consistent running about 20 miles a week and hitting the gym in between runs. Other times, I’ve slipped and let exercise become a low priority resulting in immediate weight gain.  But generally, I have kept up with exercise incorporating hiking, running and lifting several times a week.
Something that I haven’t really managed so well is my diet. I think I am healthier than most Americans, but let’s be honest, that’s not saying much.   Generally, I avoid fast food and opt for higher protein meals versus starchy ones at restaurants. For a long time, I stopped ordering French Fries or greasy foods and I never drink soda.  My problem is that my serving portions are the equivalent of what an NFL player consumes and I am incapable of refusing pastries. I've also allowed French Fries and greasy food to occasionally sneak back into my life.
 After years of denial, I am finally accepting that maybe I need to control my diet as consistently as I have been about exercise.  I am 4'11" and I’ve stayed between 115-130lbs for most of my 20s getting as low as 105lbs at my absolute best. I am pretty proud about this weight range, but would be delighted if I could stay at 115lbs forever.  I feel the best when I am a comfortable size 4 and have strong arms and shoulders. Sadly, I haven’t been a comfortable size 4 in ages and the scale has been north of 120lbs for years.  I step up on exercise, but the results are just not exactly where I want them to be. I decided last week that It is time to take serious action to reach my goal.
I decided that I am far too much of a foodie to adopt a fad diet or anything that I can’t maintain long-term. I love all kinds of food from all over the planet, and I didn’t want to do anything too restricting. I decided that what would work best for me is to start controlling my portions and making wise decisions about eating by counting calories. To that end, I enlisted the help of my friends for their suggestions on an easy to use tool to help me track my calories. Many suggested, which I started using last Monday.
I have to say, that this first week of counting calories and tracking exercise has been fantastic!  I am allowed 1,200 calories on days when I don’t exercise to reach my goal weight of 115lbs. I am allwoed a few more calories on days when I do excerise. Crrently I weigh 130lbs.
This concept of earning my calorie allowance has been really helpful. During this first week, I found myself planning my meals for each day based on how many calories I should try to consume for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each day, I tried to eat the exact same breakfast so I can be consistent with my count.  I eat 2 soft-boiled eggs and a whole-wheat pita, a 300 calorie lunch and a dinner of 600 calories or less. I am also motivated to keep up with nearly daily exercise routines just because I love the idea of tracking my exercise on My Fitness Pall and tracking my progress.   I was also really good about logging in my entries each day. I made sure I didn’t go to sleep without tracking my food and exercise. I am already feeling a little more wiggle room in my clothes!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More on e-mail etiquette

Reply All, CC, and BCC----Get to know these, when to use them and how not to abuse them!
In the professional world, many of our interactions are over e-mail.  Since this is how we interact, we have to know the social rules that come with the territory.  Mastering these social rules, or e-mail etiquette, can make you efficient in your everyday interactions.
I think the “Reply-All” button is one of the most abused features of e-mail.  It is the most annoying when someone uses an e-mail distribution list that shows everyone’s e-mail addresses to congratulate an employee for a promotion or the birth of their child or some other celebratory message.  When the first person hits “Reply-all” to send his congratulations, that’s when the madness starts. Suddenly, the social pressure to “Reply-all” turns into this infectious virus and everyone is bit by the bug to send their “Congratulations.”  Now, your in-box has dozens of useless messages eating up space. This could have been avoided if the person who originated the initial messaged had ‘hid’ the distribution list by BCCing the distribution list—a correct way to use BCC.
The right use of reply-all is when you are working on a project with several individuals involved that need to be kept informed.  If you receive a message requesting action from you and there are individuals CC’d, or carbon copied, you have to reply-all or else those who aren’t included in your reply will not know if you’ve handled your end.  
Sometimes, you are brought into an e-mail exchange because perhaps you are the most appropriate person for a certain request or project. For example, I often receive messages from colleagues that might say something like  “It sounds like your should connect with Brenda Gonzalez, I have copied her to this message…”.  If I am indeed the correct person that needs to be brought in, I like to reply-all with something like  “Great, I will e-mail  Blank Person directly to coordinate.” I prefer to do this over inviting a series of “reply-alls” to everyone with the details of what I really should be coordinating exclusively with the person who was referred to me.  But, my initial reply-all does bring the conversation to a close for the person who first thought of looping me in.
I like to use “CC” as an accountability tool. For example, perhaps my boss in passing has asked me to connect with a certain person.  When I get the opportunity to send an e-mail to the person my boss wants me to connect with, I make sure I CC my boss so he knows I have followed through.  
Another tool that is not often leveraged is the Blind Carbon Copy or BCC.   I am finding that one has to be quite savvy to use BCC strategically. Unfortunately, I just had a bad experience because a colleague of mine didn’t quite understand how BCC works. Here’s the story:
I decided to CC my colleague, let’s call her Jan, in a note because a person in her market, let’s call her Pat, had reached out to me.  My note said something to the effect of “I want to suggest that you connect with Jan, who I have copied….” Pat replied only to me to gently say that she had tried connecting with Jan before but had a bad experience. I wanted Jan to know that she had some work to do to make Pat’s experience a little better, so I Blind Carbon Copied Jan to my response to Pat where I assured her that we would resolve her concerns.   I used BCC because I knew Pat shared her concerns with me in private when she chose to Reply just to me and not to “Reply-All.” I assumed Jan would understand that I was sharing Pat’s note to her in secret, which is the entire purpose of Blind Carbon Copy. My assumptions where inaccurate. Jan decided to “Reply-All,” which in essence threw me under the proverbial bus!  When she replied to both me and Pat, it became obvious to Pat that I had used BCC.
The lesson I learned here is to only use BCC with folks that you are fully confident understand how it works.  Friends have suggested that instead of BCC, I should use the forward option instead. So what I could have done differently is forwarded the note I received from Pat to Jan instead.  Lessons learned and now shared with you!

Monday, June 18, 2012

A lifetime with Elmo

When my parents bought a home in the United States, I was entering 7th grade.  What most excited me about having a house of our own was that this meant I could have a dog again.  Just a couple of years before, our family suffered the great loss of my brother Ramon followed shortly by the loss of our family dog Snoopy.  Getting the new home was a big transition for our family and was a part of a transformation we faced as we entered a new phase in our lives.
As we had done with Snoopy, we visited the Orange County shelter to pick out a new dog.  I was determined to get a puppy. We looked at all the scrappy dogs in the shelter and only one stood out: the excited and noisy golden mutt with soft ears and huge, kind looking eyes.  According to the information next to this dog, he was only 4 months old and a dachshund mix. He certainly had short legs and a long body, but besides that, Elmo was a strange looking mutt that didn’t really resemble any breed and much less a dachshund. But he was the closest thing to a puppy at the pound that day, so we adopted the little guy. It was the mid-90s and Sesame Street characters where making a comeback, so naturally, I named him Elmo.
The first thing Elmo did when we brought him home was to make a B-line for the pool and jump right in. The pool had recently been nothing more than a swamp full of fish the city had put in to eat all the mosquitoes that had spawned from the old water when the house was vacant.  When Elmo jumped in, it was full of heavy chemicals. Elmo’s fur was never quite the same after jumping in that pool. It became a mess of wires sticking out in every direction, but his ears remained silky smooth.
Elmo was an energetic and friendly dog whose default mode was set to “love-you-and-lick- you-no matter-who-or-what-you-were”. He was completely obsessed with the game of fetch, though he never mastered the act of dropping the toy in your hand. Elmo would squeal with excitement to get your attention so you would throw the ball or squeaky toy. To this day, I know the roof of my parent’s house is filled with toys that were accidently thrown too far.
Elmo would stop at nearly nothing to chase a ball or toy. If his toy made it to the pool, Elmo would squeal in desperation staring at the toy until he was close enough to hop on a floaty toy we might have in the pool. He would literally hop on the floaty and use his paws to navigate the thing until the ball or toy would be in reach. It was something remarkable to watch!
The entire neighborhood knew Elmo in his early years. He had a bad habit of running away any time a gate or door was left ajar. Often, neighbors would bring him back and scold us. For a period of time, he would bark incessantly through the night communicating with the dogs in heat. He was so determined to reach the dog from the house behind ours that he would somehow manage to climb a bush and get his tiny body over the 6 foot wall that separated our two houses.
After a couple of years with Elmo, my mom was given a puppy that was a Shar pei and Chow mix who we named Sasha. As soon as she was old enough, Elmo conquered that large dog and they made 6 puppies—the most awkward looking puppies on earth! I was quite popular in 8th grade when I gave those puppies away. Sasha met a different fait than Elmo, and she lived a very short life, but Elmo carried on.
After bailing him out of the pound a few times, we knew we had to get him fixed to keep him sane. Elmo became a much more subdued pup after that surgery, but his spunky spirit and friendly demeaner continued.
Over the years, my parents took on foster children with special needs. One little girl named Yesenia was 10 years old but developmentally she was no older than 12 months. She wore a diaper and spoke fewer than 3 words. During her time with our family, she adored Elmo and would stare out at him for hours. She added a 4th word to her vocabulary “Elmo”.
My parents took in a cat that was also enthralled with Elmo, who by then was close to 10 years old. The cat would follow Elmo around the house and would even follow my mom as she would take Elmo on long walks. The cat would let Elmo eat his food and deferred to him no matter what. It was a silly thing for the cat to adore Elmo so much considering the cat was stronger, younger and much more alert in his youth. But Elmo outlasted him as well.
Elmo was my loyal friend during many break ups and heart aches, during graduations from Jr High to grad school. He was part of our family for nearly 17 years.  In his last years, despite losing his hearing and eyesight, Elmo would still seek us out. Our friends and family from either side of the border always asked about Elmo. He carried on despite an achy body and constant shortness of breath. Everyone recognized Elmo’s old-man cough. Sadly, we lost Elmo this year in a tragic way. He found himself in the pool again, only this time, he did not have the strength to get out. As a family, we are very sad about the way Elmo left us. He was a wonderful pet who deserved a better death.  We will forever remember Elmo and treasure the many years he enriched our lives. Rest in peace, Elmo.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On being tactful…

 In my career and relationships, I’ve noticed the importance of being tactful and strategic in my choice of words and actions when meeting people and building new relationships.

I decided to take on the topic of tact because I have observed friends make small but significant blunders in their interactions.  I have certainly made mistakes which have caused me to miss on an opportunity. My hope is that my observations are insightful and helpful as you meet and network with new people.

Some weeks ago, I met my friend Jane* for drinks and appetizers with her and about four of her colleagues who I was meeting for the first time. She was very tactful in introducing me to everyone and finding me a seat at the table where I would feel comfortable. Jane also mentioned something interesting about each person as she introduced them and mentioned something interesting about me. This allowed us to have a few starting points for conversation, a great strategy to make everyone feel included!

I invited a couple of my friends. Since I knew they would be joining in a bit late, I made sure we left a couple of seats open in the middle of our circle so my friends would also have the same treatment I had from Jane. The first friend to arrive was Steve* and he joined us about 20 minutes in. I introduced him to the group and mentioned that he is a teacher. This made it easy for the new people he was meeting to begin asking him about where he teachers, what grade, etc.

I am not sure if other people feel as strongly as I do, but I definitely feel a bit of anxiety whenever I feel someone is being excluded or not brought into the conversation. So I was very pleased we were all engaged in conversation, asking questions and getting to know each other. It worked because we all asked questions, kept engaged and found ways to connect. Whenever the conversation ebbed, Jane or I quickly thought of other topics we could all speak to and kept it flowing.

A few minutes later, my friend Sarah* arrived.  Sarah was an acquaintance of Jane, but a good friend of mine and Steve. So like me, she was meeting new people. Jane and I did our part to introduce the new person to the group and find ways to keep everyone engaged. We had an excellent topic, the fun ways we all know each other---a great conversation builder.

But hosts can only do so much. Instead of engaging with the group, Sarah maintained a side conversation with Steve, who she knew well. Again, I am not sure if others are as sensitive as I am about ensuring everyone feels comfortable, but my anxiety certainly increased when try as I might, Sarah and Steve kept locked in their conversation at the center of our circle, excluding everyone else and completely damaging the dynamic of the group.

I share this anecdote to bring to light some important points. You might wonder, what’s at stake?  At worst, Sarah could have missed connecting with someone hiring in the field she is looking to enter in. Or Steve might have recruited donors to make donations to his school. Neither of them will know because they weren’t mindful of their words and actions. At minimum, what is at stake is a good evening with new friends.

There are many simple gestures and actions you can take to help individuals feel welcomed. When I am telling a story to a friend and a new person enters the circle, I try my best to quickly sum up where I am in the story so the new person feels included, allowing the person to chime in.  Or if I want to share a story that includes people that not everyone in the circle is familiar with, I add clarifying words like “Our friend Jessica…” instead of starting the story with “Jessica…etc” as if everyone knows who I am talking about. Otherwise, I run the risk of having only those familiar with the hypothetical Jessica feel able to engage in the conversation, ruining the inclusive environment.  These are simply things, but applying these things makes you tactful.

 If you find yourself in a conversation circle, remain conscience of your body, words, and gestures. Are you missing an opportunity to get to know someone new? Are you making a bad impression by closing off a circle or giving your back to someone? Are you asking questions to keep the conversation going? Are you pausing when you’re speaking about yourself to learn about the other person?  If you are mindful of these simple questions, you will have more meaningful conversations when meeting new people. This is helpful in both the professional and social world.  You will build a broader network of friends and acquaintances which is always useful.  

*names where changed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Reflection: Worst Summer Job

My birthday is in the summer, so I was lucky enough to start my very first job on my 16th birthday at a Pizza parlor. Since then, I’ve worn many hats, aprons, name tags and wreaked of various sauces, soups and salads over the years before finally landing a ‘real job’.  While there are many jobs to choose from, one summer job takes the prize as the worst.

When I was about 18, I got hired on as a server at a soup and salad buffet style restaurant. It was a chain restaurant popular in the east coast that was trying to break into the California market. It was the only one like it for hundreds of miles; the place couldn’t count on name recognition. Since it was pretty slow usually, it was common that one server would serve the entire floor which probably had a max occupancy of 100.

In theory, this 1:100 ratio seemed reasonable especially since it was a buffet style restaurant and my only responsibilities where refilling drinks and checking out customers when they were through. In reality, I found myself running frantically between the soda bar and the cashier drawer trying desperately to keep patrons from seeing the bottom of their soda glasses.  By the end of my shift, the place was a mess!

I should add that another one of my responsibilities was to clear tables and dump all the remaining food and soup into this disgusting bin. By the end of the night, that bin looked like a swamp that would intimidate the Lock Ness monsters! One time, I accidently dropped the cashier key into the stew of grime and had to stick my hand in to find it. It was beyond gross!

As the only server, I also had to clean every table, tray and counter and mop the entire floor before locking up the store. It was a gruesome job which left my 18 year old body feeling 81.  But before I had a chance to throw in the towel, I learned the restaurant went out of business when a coworker called me on my day off. The managers had not even informed any of us and had simply left a sign on the door. To this day, I am missing my final paycheck! But to be honest, I was relieved it was over and I would never see the bin of bile again!