#RealTalk Life Advice about Work

At least a few times a year, I'm prompted to think about work. We all go there most days a week but rarely give any thought to whether it still makes sense to be there or if change is needed.

I receive a lot of email newsletters that are focused on career ladies, like myself, and they typically follow the same tired career tropes:

  • Find what you love and you'll never "work" a day in your life!
  • Take a risk and do what you love!

The reason I call these tired is because we all know that doing what you want, in any given moment, is often more fulfilling than doing what you think you should be doing. For example, sleeping in on the weekend is way more fulfilling than spending those hours doing laundry or cleaning. This is common sense and not worth repeating.

Also, I find this tiring because it illicits a number of questions. Doing what you love may not pay the bills for you and your family. Taking risks without a safety net can then present a major danger to you and those who depend on you. In short, it's all very nice in the perfect scenario but life is rarely so perfect.

Recently, I came across a few pieces of content that bucked this trend and focused on far more attainable ways of promoting your long-term career health:

  • Trent Hamm's The Myths and Realities of 'Doing What You Love' is great because it describes the reality of finding something you love but then how that can evolve into something that isn't so great. What's key here is how you can pivot from one thing to another without taking an extended unpaid sabbatical to travel the world for a year (something most regular people can't afford and yes, I'm throwing a wee bit of shade at Eat. Pray. Love). Really great advice here about how to maintain a side hustle.
  • Another insightful piece I found was over on Medium by Brianna Wiest called You're Not Meant To Do What You Love. You're Meant To Do What You're Good At. In short, it contends that finding that sense of purpose in life is about doing things that you do well and help you contribute to the world around you. I know a woman who tried really hard to be a doctor and ended up becoming a fantastic nurse. Sometimes folks fall in love with the idea of being something instead of the actual career (think the same can be said about relationships, but that's a whole 'nother post!).
  • And, finally, Ross McCammon published a piece on LinkedIn about The importance of sucking at a new job for a year or two which underscores how hard change is, but how it might be really good for us. Sometimes starting a new job makes me feel like Gob from Arrested Development ("I think I've made a big mistake") but then you realize that mistakes are a normal part of growth for any reasonably capable human being.

Married in Manhattan…on a Budget

After being together for thirteen years, my then boyfriend (now husband) proposed to me. As he nervously put the ring on my finger my first words to him, after saying yes, were, "Wait, does this mean I have to plan a wedding?"

Married in Manhattan

My Husband and I on our wedding day at Washington Square Park

At that point in time, the majority of our coupled friends had already gotten married. I happened to be in a couple of weddings so had seen firsthand what I did and did not want in my own nuptials. However, even with that knowledge, planning a wedding was not easy.

The additional challenge for us was that our families were unable to financially support us so the burden of paying for the wedding fell squarely on our shoulders. That said, this is not necessarily a bad thing! Saving for a major expenditure, together, is actually good practice for saving for other things like a house, college fund or a nice vacation.

When the dust settled, we were able to get married in Manhattan for just under $15K which is well under the national average for weddings in this country. This is also WAY under the average for Manhattan which is currently at a ridiculous $88,176.

Additionally, I should note that this amount is inclusive of our honeymoon flight and lodging which ended up being a wonderful reward for all our saving and planning. Some folks suggested maybe we should wait until later and have a longer honeymoon but it was actually really nice to get away on an adventure that included our passports, however modest.

So, without further ado, now that it's been a full year since the wedding and I've had a chance to reflect on that day—and all the planning that led up to it—here are some tips and tricks on how we did it:

1. Limit Scope

The first thing we did was to limit the scope of what we were going to do. We decided we are going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 people and focused our search for venues on finding a place that would accommodate this small number of folks. It definitely wasn't easy to find a small venue but it's important to stick to your guns on defining scope. You can't invite everyone and people really won't be that offended. I have absolutely no regrets about this.

2. Budget for stuff that matters to you

We also set budgets for different categories like the dress (I'll get to that in a second), his suiting, our wedding bands, etc. Here are some of the budgets we defined:

  • My dress: $1000
  • His suiting: $400
  • Paper invitations: $150
  • Wedding Bands (for both of us combined): $350
  • Honeymoon (Flight & Lodging): $2000

You need to focus on what matters to you and your future spouse. Not what matters to everyone else. Not what you think you should do because The Knot tells you so.

In our case, we ended up going a little over on the honeymoon and spent closer to $2200 for our flight and lodging, which was well worth the extra money. Also, I should mention that the bulk of the approximately 15K we spent was on our venue which has phenomenal character…and food. Food was clearly important to us.

Wedding bands were not very important to us. We both opted for simple white gold bands from Blue Nile where my engagement ring was purchased. I would've loved to get a more ornate wedding band but it didn't make good financial sense. This is another one of those decisions I definitely do not regret.

Same holds true for paper invitations; we used a "save the date" template as our paper invite and pushed folks to RSVP via our wedding website in order to save money both on postage and printing. Fortunately for us, I was able to build our website but there are lots of services out there that aren't incredibly expensive for this sort of thing.

3. Go off the beaten path

I think it's important to be flexible if you are going to try to plan a budget wedding. For my husband and I, we are used to being super unconventional so doing things that most people typically don't do for a wedding wasn't too out of character for us. A lot of people decide to get married and fall back on conventional norms about how weddings are "supposed to be." We had none of that.

This translated to how we even selected our wedding venue. We ended up getting married at a restaurant in the West Village. It was a great deal but we had to make some concessions. One concession was that our wedding was basically during brunch-time instead of the traditional dinner service. This helped us save a lot of money and it was such a beautiful sunny day that I think it worked out for the best that we had the ceremony and reception before the sun went down. Additionally, our venue provided flower arrangements on every table so we didn't have to buy flowers, except for my bouquet.

The other unconventional thing we did was shopping off the rack for our attire. My husband and I bought his suit from the Macy's men's department. We found a woman there who helped us select something that would be in budget. We told her it was for a wedding — but we didn't tell her it was for HIS wedding. This is a good technique to use as, once sales people hear you are getting married, they try to use that emotion to their advantage to try to goad you into spending more. Don't give them the opportunity!

My dress, meanwhile, I purchased from Anthropologie as they have a small wedding salon in some of their shops. I really love the Anthro styles (one of my favorite shops) so I had quite a few different dresses to choose from. Ultimately, I went with the one I got which was at the very top end of my budget of $1000 (I think the final total for the dress was something like $1025 and then the alterations I had to get elsewhere cost me an additional $250). Of the 3 I was enamored with, the one I chose was the most comfortable and that mattered most as I knew I would be wearing that dress the entire day.

4. Take your time and save your money

Also, one thing to note is that we had a very long engagement which ultimately helped us save money over time without sacrificing the quality of life that we were used to. We put aside $200 per paycheck automatically (this is key to making this work!) which, over time, added up.

This also allowed us to take advantage of off-season deals or other sales as we happened upon them. We bought a whole lot of odds and ends online which, with coupon codes, really helped us save money. We used Wedding Paper Divas for our invitations (with a coupon code, of course) but, as I mentioned previously, we saved some money there by doing an online RSVP process instead of costly (and not exactly environmentally friendly!) paper response cards. We did have to chase a few people but for the most part, the RSVPs happened; in fact, a lot of folks I know said it was smart that we didn't spend all that money on invitations response cards because many of their wedding guests didn't even send them back!

5. Keep your perspective about you

It's really important to keep your perspective. I read so many bridal magazines that would say, "You deserve X!" When, in truth, you don't deserve anything except each other. The wedding is about two people coming together and sharing their joy with the village around them. It's not about the stuff. It's never about the stuff.

The important thing is that you and your significant other can share a moment together to kickoff the rest of your lives. When we were at City Hall getting our marriage license, we saw so many blissful couples getting married there.

Life is too short to try to strive for a Pinterest-perfect wedding, but you should definitely make sure to strive for an open bar for your guests!

Looking back at it now, we had a wonderful wedding and I wouldn't change a single thing.

642 Things: A Houseplant Is Dying

A Houseplant is dying.
Tell it why it needs to live.

Dear Sonny the Plant,

When I brought you home in your lovingly decorated rose bowl terrarium, you were accompanied by Cher. Cher was a beautiful succulent with long flowing tendrils and you were her more shaggy-looking companion with long sideburns. Unfortunately, Cher lost the will to continue and was removed from the terrarium.

We'll always remember Cher the Plant, and it is in these memories that Cher continues to live. This is why you must continue to live. It is through your vibrancy that we will honor Cher. From whatever big white soil terrarium in the sky that Cher resides in now, I know she'd be proud of all that you've become.

Your Black-Thumbed Owner

P.S. = I promise not to drown you in the love of my spray bottle as I grieve for Cher.

The Real Issue with Hillary's Email

I don't usually write about politics but The Washington Post recently published an article about how Hillary Clinton reached out to Colin Powell to understand what he did to have access to email remotely. There's a scanned print-out of exactly what they discussed over email which I found fascinating!

When I read the exchange between Powell and Clinton, I could instantly relate. It seems that working at the State Department is a lot like working in financial services. And, quite honestly, it wasn't until I worked at a bank that I realized just how oppressive IT policy could be. Email on your personal phone is a relatively new concept at my current employer in the financial industry and even then, it is significantly locked down via a special app that doesn't let you navigate to links or download files to your phone.

In my opinion, the real root of the problem here is the risk-averse IT policies in place that often impede folks from getting shit done. I'm sure Hillary Clinton has no intention of inappropriately circulating classified material. However, is she trying to creatively work around a road block to efficiency? Probably. And this is why I have a feeling the FBI, who no doubt face similar organizational challenges in getting work done, did not push for prosecution.

For those still giving me the side eye on this, let me share an example with you. I work at a company that won't allow you to install any software on a machine unless it has been approved. There is no list of approved software hanging around so figuring out if I can install first requires a trip to the tech service desk. There, they tell me that the software I need to do my job is definitely not on their list — but if I can make a business case for it, I can email someone and they might approve it as an exception.

I email said person and get no response for a while. I follow up and then eventually get shuffled around amongst various folks being added to this email chain who have no idea what this software is. Eventually, I get a solid "no" because I think they are tired of dealing with me.

The software I was trying to install is called Balsamiq Mockups and is used a lot for rapid prototyping of user experiences; it costs all of $89 and even then, I was planning on using my personal license rather than go through the separate "getting funding" exercise once I had permission to install. Even with that, it was still definitely "no."

Then, one day, I was granted administrator access to install some other approved software. With a full 7 days of admin access, you better believe I installed all the non-approved software that I knew I needed to be efficient at my job! And every time I'm able to use that software in my day-to-day, I feel pretty damn good about my decision.

When it comes to IT policy in some industries (like government), the governance in place lags woefully behind what we are used to in other industries. Often you do have to take a detour and work around processes because attempting to go through them would be akin to trying to smash through a brick wall with your skull. Painful. Difficult. Unproductive. A waste of valuable time.

So, whatever your politics, to paraphrase Bernie Sanders, let's just lay off talking about the damn email already.

642 Things: What can Happen in a Second

What Happens in a Second

As I bring my hand towards my face, I can feel the cold black plastic against my skin. It's refreshing but warm and familiar. I close one eye and stare.

It's dim now as I stare, but that's part of the familiar appeal. I grip tighter as I focus my gaze. Through the glass, my world is very different. I move my body ever so slightly to accommodate the unforgiving fixed glass.

My hand is tightened but my forefinger remains calm and ready. Beams of sunshine meet my eye. I move my finger down and apply pressure until the world around me goes black. When I release, all the colors return yet the slate is wiped clean.

And then, in another second, I take my next photograph.

642 Things to Write About

If you hang out on this blog long enough, you'll see that I write about a bunch of different topics.

I really enjoy writing about technology from a woman's perspective as so much of technology coverage doesn't really speak to how products are (or in some cases are not!) designed with women in mind. To this end, I also enjoy writing about customer experiences in general. For me, user experiences are all around us waiting to be examined (i.e. Functional design).

However, I've also enjoyed writing creatively. I say this in the past tense because it's been a while since I've finished writing something creative. And, while I enjoy writing about the real world and what's going on in it, I'd love to get back to creative writing.

And… I think the universe is trying to tell me something.

For my birthday, I received a book called "642 Things to Write About." It wasn't something I'd heard about and it wasn't like I had this in my Amazon wish list. But it came at just the right time. That's what I mean by "the universe" — this book came to me by no action of my own exactly when it should.

So, I'll be taking on the 642 writing prompts in the book, one blog post at a time. I'll still blog about the stuff I always do, but the creative writing will take precedence here. I'll tag each post as "642 things" and "creative writing" so you can find them by tag if you are so inclined.

Hope you enjoy!

My Summer Fling

This summer I decided to have a fling — with long fingernails. It all started innocently enough, but I'll take it from the top.

My nails were so hot (pun intended).

My nails were so hot (pun intended).

Earlier this year, my nails were particularly brittle and I personally was feeling a bit run down. A couple of health professionals I saw recommended taking vitamins, which I started doing (of course, only the gummy kind would suffice). Being that I am interested in becoming pregnant in the next 5 years, they said it would be good to get into the habit of taking them.

Many women who take vitamins regularly report shiny hair and strong nails. I didn't have either. After chopping off my hair (I was due but my hair stylist decided to take off a little bit more than normal!), I did some research about my nails and came across a woman who recommended Read the rest of this entry »

Whatever happened to digital photo albums?

Anthony and I were in Montreal over the weekend. We had a blast and, unsurprisingly, spent a lot of time eating. During one of those moments, we happened to be in the Old Montreal area at a restaurant called Le Robin Square enjoying a leisurely lunch. We had VERY leisurely lunches. While the service at all the restaurants we visited was great, we noticed there's a bit of a slower pace of life in Montreal — especially when it comes to dining — that is pretty much unheard of in New York. Not a bad thing but just different!

This poutine did not stand a chance!

This poutine did not stand a chance!

While we were there for lunch, we happened to notice the restaurant had a TV screen with some digital ambiance playing on it. This consisted of a stock video of a vineyard and you could see the leaves gently swaying in the wind. This got me thinking about the idea of the "digital picture frame."

Remember when that was a thing?

For a hot second, it was something that everyone thought they needed…and then they didn't. The Wall Street Journal wrote about this last year but I think there's more to it than what they surmised as far as why they never went anywhere. At the time these products came out, they were severely underpowered. Also, perhaps the larger problem, at the time these really became big, there were very few cloud storage solutions for photo that were widespread. Today, everyone's stuff is stored in the cloud so, as long as the picture frame can connect to wifi, in theory, you can access your photos with very limited friction.

That said, given this new climate, you'd think these things would be more popular! Unfortunately, that's still not the case but I'd have to imagine that major players who have invested in the home-automation sector (like Google, Apple and maybe Amazon?) could have a major opportunity in looking into how to make this work. Given that Google, Apple and Amazon are storing a lot of photos, it would make sense for them to turn those banks of images into something that could make them money.

And, speaking of making money, I think Apple is uniquely suited to make this work given they have a great knack for making us fall in love with consumer products that we didn't know we needed. I can't live without my iPhone today but at one point in time it was something I held off on buying. The same is true of the iPad I'm writing this piece from. In short, with one well-timed ad, Apple can make us want to buy just about anything.

That said, making the digital picture frame work would require a renewed focus on the form factor and the user experience for configuring it. As you are probably aware, most of these digital picture frames resemble a small television monitor. In order to hang this on my wall or put it on my desk, I would want it to look less like another device and more like something analog. In this case, it needs to have more of that organic feel.

And, as much as the form factor is important, you can't discount the importance that the user experience holds in making something like this a success. I recall when I had one of these way back when and it required me throwing a bunch of files onto a filesystem. Not exactly the easiest user experience to figure out which files I wanted. Today, the process of loading from physical media could be replaced entirely by the cloud — or better yet, a companion app on your phone through which you can configure the device that's hanging on your wall as long as you are on the same wifi network.

Additionally, I think there are endless opportunities when it comes to curation. I've seen first hand that folks have seemingly end-less libraries of photos on their phones. When you have that many photos, how do you find the ones that matter? I would propose looking into some sort of machine learning whereby your images can get tagged or grouped thematically based on what the image consists of. Maybe you only want to see the pictures that have your kids present in them — or maybe you want to only pull up photos that don't contain any people in them. Or only black and white photos. Given so many folks don't print photos anymore, it's surprising that this hasn't come up as new product.

That said, if Yahoo had the money and was willing to partner with a hardware company, I would even say they could make this product category stand out. Yahoo is interestingly positioned, at least for now, because they own Flickr.com. Flickr has a wonderful community of photographers' work including many archives and images that are Creative Commons licensed. My hunch is that Google may be looking into these kinds of devices given their acquisition of Nest was more for the technology going into the devices (and how they could jump start their own connected home efforts).

Though, at this point, it may be that everyone is focused on fixing the terrible UI of the interior of the car (I will write about that another time!) and no longer focused on adding more internet connected devices for your home. Looking forward to seeing what Google (or should I say Alphabet?) and Apple have up their sleeves.

Luxury User Experiences: Chanel

If you know me, you know that I'm mildly obsessed with nail polish. I have a large box in my dresser containing various colors and styles – as well as nail art tools. Selecting a polish to wear can sometimes be really difficult (seriously, it's like choosing among children!) so I'll ask my dear husband to weigh in. Most recently, he selected one of my all-time favorite polishes, Essie's Chinchilly.

Chances are you are not like me and know the names of all your favorite nail polishes. However, Chinchilly is a legend so you've probably seen it without knowing you were looking for it. I've had women in the elevator stop me and ask me if the color they are admiring on my fingers is Chinchilly. It's a seriously "greige" color; a bit of neutral and grey and even lavender depending on the light.

Essie Chinchilly on a chilly day

Essie Chinchilly on a chilly day

When I decided to begin painting my nails with my bottle of Chinchilly, I discovered a dire situation — the bottle was past its prime and beyond repair. I have some nail polishes that get a bit gloopy (really thick and barely manageable because they are probably actually expired…) but they are still somewhat useable so I keep them around. But this time, most of the bottle had been used and what was left over was the nail polish equivalent of backwash.

I considered instantly re-buying it on Amazon but I held off because I thought that might be a bit excessive (and dear husband would've surely made fun of me!). Instead I bought a new bottle later at Rite-Aid. But that's not the point. The point is I thought about the experience of re-buying something that you absolutely love.

This reminded me of the Chanel.com web experience for buying nail polish. At one point in my past life, I had access to fashion beauty closets and happened to acquire a bottle of Chanel nail polish at a steep discount. I went to the Chanel online experience to understand how much I had saved when I discovered that they actually have a pretty neat shopping experience.

Auto-replenishment Screenshot

Auto-replenishment Screenshot

One thing that stuck out for me (and still does to this day) is their "auto-replenishment" program. Basically, this is an opportunity for you to buy the product in that moment but also forecast that you might want to re-buy this product in a few months or so (once it either expires or goes bad). You can auto-replenish their products every 1 to 6 months. After a quick Google search, it looks like many other luxe brands offer this service. I imagine they would incorporate this feature for a couple of key reasons:

1. Key Differentiator from Sephora
Yes, I can probably buy any number of Chanel products from Sephora (or Ulta or department stores, for that matter) but none of these companies is as invested in getting me to spend my money on the same thing every month, so they don't offer this functionality. As a result, if all things are equal and I know I will be a repeat customer, I might as well buy from the source which saves me the trouble of re-ordering every time I need a product "top-up."

2. Aspirational Quality
I think we all have an image of a Chanel woman in our heads. She's Parisian chic, well coiffed and smells amazing. Auto-replenishment dovetails nicely with this idea as we can imagine that the secret to her effortless beauty is her monthly supply of Chanel. Having the same products you use over and over again also speaks to the idea of having a very well defined "personal style" and really knowing what works for you versus following trends.

In short, it's the same as Amazon's Subscribe and Save but takes it to a whole new level!

A Small Omission: Gran Turismo Sport and Female Gamers

The other day, my husband decided to share a trailer for the latest Gran Turismo game that was unveiled for the Playstation console at the latest E3 events. I remember playing Gran Turismo games with my little brother way back when on the original first Playstation! I also really enjoy, now as an adult with a driver's license, having the opportunity to drive high performance cars from time to time; though, most of the time, I'm rolling around in a compact car with good fuel economy thanks to Zipcar. All that said, we watched the trailer together and were in awe of the beautiful graphics that made sleek sports cars look even sleeker.

However, while the game graphics look fantastic, I noticed a small omission in the trailer I watched. Let me explain.

At about 45 seconds into the video, multiple world flags appear circling the globe with some text overlayed that says "Driving is for Everyone." I thought that was cute and chuckled softly to myself. Yes, driving should be for everyone because, personally, I find it fun and convenient for getting across this giant country we live in.

By about 2 and a half minutes in, they start presenting images about live tournaments they'll be running regularly. I think to myself, "How the hell are they going to manage that?" but I'm sure they've figured out some way to automate it so that people can play in these tournaments online and it works fairly seamlessly.

At 3 minutes in, the screen now reads "Open to all ages, anyone can enjoy" but all the faces I see feverishly playing the new game are men. Eight seconds later and I think I've spotted ONE woman deep in the background at this tournament event they are showing footage from. Another six seconds go by and I see a crowd of people clapping for the game, not sure if they are fans or journalists but it is fairly clear that they are also ALL men. By 3 minutes and 38 seconds into the video, it is still a sausage fest with a group of male victors celebrating.

By 3 minutes and 50 seconds, I finally see a woman in the foreground and she is congratulating a winner, who is of course male.

Not sure if you followed my drift (see what I did there?!) but what I noticed is that, despite all the inclusionary language, the video footage itself was not incredibly diverse from a gender perspective. And I'm sure, if you asked the creators of this video their intent, they were not intending on specifically leaving us out. They just made a small omission. They just forgot (i.e. our bad!).

While I don't necessarily believe that anyone is going out of their way to be sexist, I think it is important to acknowledge that unconscious bias is still bias. And, though relatively harmless here in this context, a video like this is a microcosm for a much larger issue.

Some may call that being "sensitive" but I completely disagree. Because by that standard, it would be inappropriate for me to be appalled by the lack of gender diversity across the technology industry. Essentially, we need advocates (both women and men) to push the envelope and stand up and say, "Hey, why aren't there more women here? Have we made an effort to include people of all genders?" Because, in practice, I know lots of ladies who are into video games and there are certainly a number of car enthusiasts who also happen to be female.