Saturday, September 30, 2017

It's Dangerous To Pass Judgement On The Tip Of An Iceberg

"Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things."
- Romans 2:1 (NAS)
I'll be the first to admit, my resume doesn't look great. I have holes in my work timeline but they can be explained and justified. I don't have credentials beyond my undergraduate education and the experience that I've accumulated along the way. My experience isn't the most well-rounded either. And I didn't go to a top-tier school.

Does that mean that I'm not worth interviewing?

If I looked at a company's balance sheet and income statement and saw nothing but bad assets, tons of liability, little income or even a loss, but with a great mission and well respected by others - should I not apply for a job there?

Or is it worth it to see what the company does, what kinds of people work there, and why they do what they do?

The old me would tell me today to shred my resume because it's not worth submitting it for interview anywhere. There are people who are better "on paper" and would likely get the face-time and possibly the opportunity over you. And today's me knows better than to pre-judge someone based on a piece of paper that merely states the surface-level facts without a character or personality to support it. Because I know now, better than before, that less than half the story exists on that piece of paper. That resume is just the tip of the iceberg.

Iceberg - Antarctica - December 2015

You would think that after 12 years of working in the Tax/Accounting industry not having a CPA or MST wouldn't be a barrier to entry to a new position. But I think that it is still a hurdle to overcome. And it saddens me to think how much scrutiny and judgement is being passed on my resume every time it is submitted. (333)

Friday, September 29, 2017

My Leap Into Organics & CSA

Yesterday I received my first box of organic fruits and vegetables from Boxed Organics, a local Community Sourced Agriculture (CSA) business. Everything is locally sourced so it's as fresh as can be.

Our first box - standard share size

If you've been following my blog and Twitter, you know that I've recently been reading plenty about the environment, climate change, and how to make life better in general. You'd also know that I've been fairly particular about what I eat and have been exercising regularly as part of my promise to myself to affect change at a personal level.

CSA is not a new concept to me. I've known about it ever since my cousin first started participating in the community, but I wasn't conscious (environmentally, physically, mentally) enough to join. From the 6 months abroad with my wife, I learned a lot about my body and really figured out and understood how it functions. I know how my metabolism is affected by certain things I eat. And I have a better understanding of what my body can tolerate and what is easier to digest.

Since we came back from our travels, I've paid plenty of attention to what I've been consuming. If I buy processed foods (peanut butter, jam, pasta, tomato sauce, guacamole, hummus, etc.), I've been sure to buy the organic versions. Carbohydrates have been really limited, and if I do consume them, they are usually whole wheat. My fruit consumption has been modified to try to get more nutritional value from them. So I've been eating apples, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and occasionally some mandarins. As for vegetables, I've increased my intake in general. Carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, eggplant, and a couple of others occasionally make the list. But with the fruits and vegetables, I was never sure if they were organic, nor did I know where they came from.

So naturally, the next step to improving my health was to move towards organic fruits and vegetables. But not only does it help me and my diet, it also helps local farmers and the environment. It is another step in helping reduce our carbon footprint. Check out Boxed Organics 10 Reasons Why for just a snapshot at how simple participation in this community based effort and movement can change your life and the lives of others as well as the planet.

So what did I get? This week's box included:

  • Yellow onions
  • Green beans
  • Broccoli
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Green Bell peppers
  • Acorn squash
  • Gold potatoes
  • Gala apples
  • Bosc pears
  • Hardy kiwi berries
And to top it off, I get an email with some really helpful recipes using some of the ingredients that were included in the box.

The biggest surprise to me from this box was the kiwi berries! I had never even heard of this fruit before so that was already a shock. But the taste was the kicker. It's a sweet juicy kiwi explosion from a tiny grape/berry-sized fruit. At first look I thought it might be sour or tart, but I was certainly mistaken. What a beautiful new little fruit I've just learned about.

Overall, what I'm mostly looking forward to in the short-term is tasting the difference in fresh produce and trying a variety of things I normally would not buy in the market myself (ie. acorn squash, potatoes, kiwi berries). And I know that in the long run I am benefiting from the improved nutrition and contributing to the local social and economic impact that being green and going organic has on a community.

Will you go organic? (594)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

500 Words A Day?

I read an article recently on Medium that was really intriguing. I'm not a writer. I didn't get a degree in literature or communications. And my vocabulary certainly isn't large enough to compete in any kind of competition. But I'm an occasional blogger. I like to share my thoughts, ideas, and tidbits about my life. And I'm educated enough to convey these things via social media.

So I'm going to try an experiment in writing 500 words a day via this blog to see what kinds of changes my mind and writing style go through. This will be an exercise in development, discipline, imagination, and creativity. I have a feeling that I will have to take down some of the walls that I normally build in order to keep up with the minimum requirements.

For example, I normally don't write about my feelings. That may have to change. I try to stay away from strong opinions and politics. But lately, it's a topic that's worth writing about. And I also keep a distance from posting about things I'm not too familiar with. But maybe if I do, I'll get some good feedback from my readers and even learn from it. Also, I usually wait until I have something worth saying before I blog. I think I have to take heed of Rao's claim that, "If I waited to be inspired, I'd be screwed" and just write away. Although I have no obligation to write, I think forcing myself to write will really evoke thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions from the depths of my mind. It's time to "put pen to paper" or in this day and age, get my "fingers to typing?"

Rao's exercise was for 1,000 words. But one thousand words isn't so easy to accumulate. So I've decided to start at half of his rate. It's still going to be pretty difficult. For the sake of example, "this" is the 320th word in this blog post. Maybe I should start at one-third his rate seeing as I'm not half the writer Rao is.

Yup, that's what it's going to be. (352)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Night Is Darkest Just Before The Dawn

There is a dark side to job hunting and unemployment that people do not write or talk about. Because on the outside, you want your family and friends to think you are ok, that you're having FUNemployment. No one wants to hear you complain or stress, so you do your best to keep it to yourself. But that only creates more stress, fear, doubt. The dark side of the whole process is the mind-fuck that you that put yourself through.
The moon as seen from the Atacama Desert
through a telescope in the middle of the night.

There is an anger that develops for any rejection you may receive. Doubt of your own talent and skills slowly creep up on your mind's eye. The focus then becomes, what have you done wrong? How you could have done better? Who affected this situation? Why did you do what you've already done?

Fear grows inside that you will not find what you're looking for. Fear grows as time continues to pass. Anxiety rises as time passes too. The longer you're out of work, the less appealing of a candidate you are. That feeling of becoming inferior to your previous peers and colleagues starts to show. Hate for the recruiters who have been anything but helpful develops. Discontent with the job postings you find mounts.

It's all in your mind. The constant thinking makes your mind spin. And you literally circle these thoughts daily. Of course, they are accompanied by all the negative feelings across the spectrum. And worse of all, no one understands the circumstances you are in. No matter what anyone says about knowing the feeling or having been there, the reality is that they have no idea. Because your situation is complex and deeply rooted in the series of decisions, events, and shortcomings that you've gone through. No one can possibly know what you are dealing with.

Some days I want to scream. I want to throw my laptop across the room. Sometimes I cry to myself because, even though I'm alone in my home, I forbid myself to show signs of distress on the outside. Because that is a sign of weakness. And no matter what my thoughts are on the inside, I'm too stubborn to let anything show on the outside.

But you have to find a way to cope with it. I have to find way to exert energy. Go to the gym. Play basketball. Take the dog out. Run errands. Walk to the park. Walk the neighborhood. Sometimes do things twice a day if it's really bad. I read. I write/blog. Whatever I do, I try to take up as much time as possible (since job searching electronically only takes up so much time.) But the most important thing I have to do is talk to my wife. Because I need to confide in her. I want her support. And she needs to know what is happening in my life. She's the glimmer of light that I need while I navigate through the darkness of the daily mental drain.

Friday, September 22, 2017

8 Things That I Am Learning About

Lately, I've been reading about, paying attention to, and/or doing a number of things to keep me up to date on current events, trends, quality of life, the environment, and other personal interests. Here are some: 

  1. Reading. It is FUN and Mental and FUNDAMENTAL.
  2. Blockchain. It is the future of the Internet, Data Management, Banking, and Travel among other things.
  3. Cryptocurrency. Although I'm not convinced it is the future of money, it's certainly a game changer and something to pay attention to.
  4. Credit. Because WTF Equifax?! Make sure to sign the petition to make credit freezing FREE for all, not a free-for-all.
  5. Investing. Whether it be about equities, real estate, or time. Here's a new platform that is popularizing trading for the new generation.
  6. Climate Change. Because WE SHOULD HAVE Paid More Attention Before, But It's NOT TOO LATE Now - Make An IMPACT
  7. Travel. You cannot learn to swim by reading a book; you need to throw yourself into the sea or into a swimming pool for that. The same happens if you want to practice yoga; reading books about yoga is useless to achieve a real yoga experience. If you want to know the world you must travel the world." -Jorge Sanchez

Follow me on Twitter to keep up with my daily musings. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

WE SHOULD HAVE Paid More Attention Before, But It's NOT TOO LATE Now - Make An IMPACT

Where have I been all these years? I'm so far behind in my personal education of climate change. I've been trapped in an office building helping businesses save money on taxes without any real care for the damage being done daily to our environment. I've let years pass and taken for granted the environment we live. I've been disconnected from the reality of global warming and climate change...until now.

I've recently started to read Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America a book by Thomas Friedman (originally published in 2008) and watched Al Gore's first movie, An Inconvenient Truth, first released in 2006. In both mediums, indisputable scientific evidence is simply conveyed to the audience on the effects of global warming and it's shocking.

What the human race and industrialized nations (particularly the United States) have done to contribute to the global dilemma is exponentially worse than the measures taken to counteract the imbalance. The naysayers and deniers can not and should not continue to ignore the now numerous elephants in the room.

In the wake of recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, now Jose and Maria, it is not difficult to see the real effects of climate change and global warming. And it is scary. In fact, it really hits home for me when I see the affect that climate change has on places that I've been to or still must visit. And sadly, I may not get to places before climate change takes it toll. Places like Antarctica where recently a huge ice shelf broke off (sooner than expected) and Greenland where scientists are seeing one of the largest ice sheets melt away are just examples of places that will never be the same because of the drastic changes to the globally important landscape. And the effects of these changes are global.

And for the place we call home, America, more specifically New York City, the possibility of rising ocean levels could be catastrophic. This video imagines the effects. It might be fiction for now, but might become a reality if more isn't done to help the greatest cause that man has ever created.

Until now, I've subconsciously been doing little things: recycling, managing my thermostat, used compact fluorescent lightbulbs, use mass transit / public transportation. But now I'm making more a conscious effort to do better.

We've been doing our part in reducing our carbon emissions by:

  • walking or biking to as many places as possible, reducing the amount of time our car runs burning fossil fuels
  • telecommute for work
  • eating organic
  • eating a low carbon diet (less meat, more chicken / vegetables)
  • planted our own herbs (vegetables are next)
  • hang drying clothes
  • and informing you all, my subscribers and readers, to do your part in helping curb global warming and reducing the effects of climate change

What have YOU done to make an impact? If you need some ideas take a look at this website. And here's one for your kids provided by NASA

And check / calculate your carbon footprint here. Globally we're at a whopping 405ppm, which is staggering considering CO2 levels have been sub-300ppm  (for 650,000 years) previous to 1950 when it started to skyrocket. 

I'm planning to watch Al Gore's newest release, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power  to get an updated view on what he and his team have tracked over the past 11 years. And then I'm going to look into getting one of these. But in the meantime, I will continue to be #climateconscious and take steps in the proper direction. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

There Is Etiquette In Travel Photography

What a great article by Wendy Simmons posted to Travel & Leisure about the nature of photographing people around the world. It is no easy action to take pictures of and with local peoples in any given village / town / city. But she found a way to make a memory for both sides. Wendy broke the stigma associated with taking peoples' photos by turning the situation from a transaction into an experience. And that's what it really should be.

It's not about capturing images. It's about creating a relationship. It's about learning from one another. It's forming a bond of trust. The photo should just serve as a reminder to you and your new friend of the friendship that's been created.

And that's why I'm so happy to learn about the length she went to deliver a single photo to a family who's never had their picture taken together before. It's a vivid reminder of what true friendship can do. I may have to borrow that idea Wendy!

What most of you don't know is that there is a real negative thought linked with photographing people, particularly faces of people, in many parts of the world. The idea that fuels the angst and sometimes even anger is theft. Some believe that you, the photographer, will steal their image for your direct benefit, that you will sell their photos to make a profit. The people of this mindset do not want to be exploited by foreigners. They do not want to be taken a fool and not be properly compensated for it. And for those reasons, people avoid posing for a quick snap. Some demand money for the chance of a photo with them. And others just plain don't allow it.

These fears and the anger are not unwarranted. Many a people have been used for their images never to be compensated, never being asked permission, and seldom having ever developed any kind of relationship. It's a sad truth in the generation where photography is almost like race or a game to capture the most remarkable, seemingly unreal but true images around the world.

Bottom line is that photos taken of people should be by permission. It is most preferable that an interaction precedes the capture. And it would be the best to develop some kind of relationship and understanding between all parties. There's plenty to learn from people around the world. You never know what kind of insights you'll get. And I'm certain that some of them will amaze you.

We made some great relationships along the way on our tour of the world.  Just have a look at these faces.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Book For Anyone And EVERYONE - It's A MUST Read

I sometimes check reading lists of notable people to get an idea of what's popular, dramatic, inspirational, action-packed, or insightful. Over the years, I've not been able to read as much as I like, but as per my recent post on self-improvement, the past 3 months given me some time to catch up.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter you'll know that I most recently read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. His book was high atop many readers lists. Successful people have all read this book, and it's no wonder why.

It is the story of a boy, Santiago, who travels to pursue his dreams. Along the way, he learns to trust his heart and heed the calls of opportunity. He overcomes fear and chases the potential treasures unknown to him except by his sheer curiosity. Through hardships, bad and good experience, and the insightful people who meets and speaks with along the way, the boy is successful in the end.

This tale lends itself to the life story of anyone who has a goal, who has a dream, who wants to succeed. This fictional work has the power to make you see and understand the importance of drive, determination, and the idea that dreams do come true. Like all the great minds who have previously read this novel, I also must list it above many of the books, both fiction and non-fiction that I've read over the course of time.

What captured me the most throughout the book was how quotable the writing was. Many things just hit me, almost as if I'd never thought of them myself. But the reality is that I've thought of some of these things but the story brought these ideas back to the forefront of my thoughts. Here are some excerpts from the book that left their mark on my mind:

"That is what made traveling appeal to him - he always made new friends, and he didn't need to spend all of his time with them. When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming part of that person's life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own. " - Santiago's thoughts - The Alchemist

" 'It's not what enters men's mouths that's evil', said the alchemist. 'It's what comes out of their mouths that is.' " - The Alchemist

" 'Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him,' his heart said. 'We, people's hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them - the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.' " - Santiago's heart - The Alchemist

" 'Every search begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested.' " - The Alchemist

" 'If a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.' "- The Alchemist

Do these quotes evoke the same feelings or thoughts for anyone else? Is it strangely odd how spot-on and relatable these excerpts are to our lives?

As I go through some of my more present struggles, I'm sure I'll keep the story of Santiago close to heart and in mind as I navigate the journeys that life presents.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Your Parents' Financial Well-Being - And Yours Too!

If you're in your 30s, and you have parents who are nearing retirement or who are getting older and less able to make wise decisions, then it's my advice to you to check on their financial well-being. Heck, if you're in your 30s then you better make sure that you're capable of managing your own money and understanding what everything is and means.

This post comes as a warning to all my readers, friends, and family just based on recent experience with my own parents.

I have an Accounting background by education and profession, so I like to think that I'm fortunate enough to be a little more financially savvy than some people. It also helps that I read through and try to understand any and all money matters that I encounter. You should too! Don't just glaze over something. Make sure you understand what you're receiving or paying for.

I think a huge problem with Baby Boomers and Generation X is that they didn't have the resources to educate themselves on all the financial opportunities available to them. These generations didn't have as many reliable people to guide them to make good decisions. And a lot of information was relayed by word of mouth from others who were just as inexperienced or unfamiliar with the topics as the next person.

That being said, today was one of many days in trying to assist my parents with their situation, concerns, and planning. While having a discussion with my mom about her and my dad's future plans about retirement, money, and timing of it all, I could not help but be annoyed / frustrated and even in disbelief at some of the things we were talking about. So I compiled a few suggestions / thoughts for others who may be able to help their own parents, friends, and family.

  1. The older they are, the simpler it needs to be. Less is more. Close bank accounts. Forego using too many credit cards. In both of these situations, I like the number 2. Two bank accounts and two different credit cards are more than enough to get them through old age and retirement. My dad hates to "put all [his] eggs in one basket" so 2 of each breaks it up enough in my opinion.
  2. It's hard to remember all those passwords. Along the same lines, once you've reduced the number of accounts open, you'll have also cut down the number of Usernames and Passwords required to be committed to memory. Because let's face it, memory deteriorates with age. If there are any other accounts you can help them close, you're only helping yourself for the future.
  3. Take inventory. Since memory fails more often, you should probably help your folks keep track of their passwords, account numbers, PINs, etc. in a safe place, of course. Whether it be by pen and paper or an Excel spreadsheet, you've got to help them organize and keep track of what they have. And if they have to use the "forgot password" function, make sure to have them update their records.
  4. Money doesn't grow on trees! Believe it or not, it's possible that your parents don't know where all their money is coming from. It is also possible that they don't know who they are paying or why. So once you've taken inventory (or maybe in parallel with taking inventory), you should help organize the to/from of their income and expenses. If they're anything like my parents, they will have a recurring expense (or two, or three) that they'll have no idea the reason or the recipient. You may uncover a long forgotten 401(k) that was never rolled over from a previous employer. You may realize that they're paying for something that is a duplicate of something else. And they may surprise you with the amount they've got stashed away. 
    • Things to pay attention to: 
      • 401(k) / 403(b)
      • Traditional & ROTH IRAs
      • Investment Portfolios (especially if they have multiple brokerage accounts)
      • Multiple Bank Accounts (some seldom used)
      • Foreign Accounts (bank / investment)
      • Automated / Recurring withdrawals on their checking / savings accounts. Make sure to check monthly, quarterly, and annual frequencies.
      • AutoPay on their credit cards (monthly, quarterly, annual)
      • CDs (certificate of deposit)
      • Safety Deposit boxes
      • Pension and any other Retirement accounts
      • Annuities
      • Life Insurance policies
      • AD&D Insurance policies
      • Disability Insurance policies
      • Other Insurance policies
      • Social Security or Supplemental Security Income
      • Medicare / Medicaid
      • COBRA
  5. Plan it out. Brush up on your Excel skills and draw up a budget for them. Show them what they will have in income and budget out their expenses. If you can find ways to cut down their expenses, make sure to follow through with the processing and not just suggest it. Don't forget to leave them some money to play with. After all, they've earned it! 

In my opinion, the earlier you get started on these processes, the better off you are, not to mention your parents. I think at first they will be apprehensive and may even feel as if they're still capable. But the reality is that their abilities will degenerate faster than you think with every passing year. At the onset, you have to convince them that this is for their own good. They may thank you later, or they may just leave you some of what they've saved! 

It's an arduous process, but good luck! 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

When Social Media Backfires

As I wrote my previous post (I've Said This Before - Communication Is A Two-Way Street) one of my best friends cautioned me to be weary of how and what I write. He was feeling like I was going to rant angrily about the topic and warned that it could be detrimental to me. He said, "hey man can't DGAF on the internet anymore."

Why? I feel like the internet was started as a place not only to collect and use data but also to vent. It's supposed to be an outlet to say what you want (for me, within moral limits) and not be subject to policing or censorship.

But here we are censoring ourselves for fear of public backlash. We have, in the more recent history of the internet, changed to care what we write about or share because of people who may use that content against you.

How did this come up? This all starts with the fact that I am unemployed. And my friend reminded me that employers / recruiters all do more thorough background checks, including your social media. But the real question is, why do employers want to see what you do outside of work? If that sort of thing mattered, then why don't they state it in their requirements of personality and character in the job posting? And when they see something that is questionable on your social media, shouldn't they have the decency to ask about it before passing you over for a potential job instead of assuming the worst cast scenario and thinking you're scum of the earth based on a photo / blog post / retweet?

Sometimes the background checks go too far. These people act like they've never done anything wrong. And if you truly don't support what your potential candidates are posting and don't want to hire them because of it, then that should be clear. Tell them it's not because of how well they can do the work potentially or how smart you think they are. Tell them it's not because they are well qualified. Tell them they're not getting the job because you didn't like the photo of them drinking a beer or that they voted for Hillary. On the flip side, maybe it's best to take some more time to speak with them to get to know them better before you pass judgement that they are not the right fit, especially if they have all the technical qualifications for the posted job.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I've Said This Before - Communication Is A Two-Way Street

The job application process is pretty standard. You search for potential positions that interest you on the job boards or though recruiters, and you submit an application along with your cover letter and professional references. And in going through these steps, through whichever channels you've chosen, you've effectively started the "conversation" so to speak. Which to your credit, should be step number one in beginning to demonstrate your communications skills. Heck, on any single list of personal characteristics and traits that are required by any given potential employer, communications is almost always a bullet. Look, there it is. I even highlighted it for you.
Personal Characteristics and Traits:
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Strong desire to build upon existing knowledge and experience
  • Exceptional interpersonal and relationship-building skills
  • Effective oral and written communication skills
  • Embraces continuous improvement 
So, here's where I'm going with this. How is it okay for the hiring employer to require you to have good communication skills, but they don't even communicate well with you throughout the application process?

How many times have you submitted an application only to receive an automated email indicating that your submission has been received? I know it's been received; I got a confirmation on the website.

How many times have you had a phone interview, and they end with, "we will get back to you in a few days/weeks to discuss how to move forward."? Do you ever hear back from them? Even if they decide to pass on hiring you, isn't moving forward knowing that they've passed on you? Wouldn't a follow-up call indicating that they have no intention to hire you be a step forward?

How many times have you had an in-person interview, and the interviewer gives you a business card and invites you to call or email with any further questions or concerns? Of course we all know they are expecting a thank-you email because somehow that's become the polite practice of the modern day interview process. But when you email them a thank-you and ask how you move forward, how come they only respond if they intend on hiring you? Don't you think a simple response to the thank-you would be another thank-you to the applicant for taking the time out to interview, to meet, to exchange information, to get to know another human being?

Please remember, an interview (like communication) is a two-way street also. Not only are you interviewing me for a job, but I am interviewing you to determine if your character is something I can work with. I'm also making a decision on if the environment is positive, if it's a place I can grow and feel comfortable asking questions.

I think some potential employers believe they have the upper hand. Because they are doing the hiring means that applicants need them as employers. Employers feel like that they are shelling out the cash so they are on top and control the situation. But remember, employers, without employees providing you services that you need - you are nothing but an idea without the resources to execute and achieve your goals.

So treat all your candidates well. Give them respect and the courtesies due to all human beings. Communicate with them so they aren't in the dark throughout the process. And give them a reason to continue to think of your institution as highly as they did when they first applied to serve you.