How Introverts Can Become Better Leaders

butterfly-1662471_640

Who says you have to be an extrovert to be a good leader?  Some of the finest political leaders and corporate CEOs are renowned introverts, including Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.

Just because you consider yourself an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to be a good leader. And in fact, you don’t need to be the CEO of your company, or even a manager, to be a good leader. A good leader makes solid decisions using the talents and ideas of those around them. You can find good leaders at any level of business, even among administrative employees. The only difference is the job title, and really, what’s in a job title anyway these days?

But back to my point. You can find people with good leadership ability at any level in the organization, and they aren’t necessarily the most outgoing, extroverted personalities on the team. Being introverted is not the same as being shy or timid, although many of them are. Introvertism, as I call it, is a way of interacting with the world. For example, introverts may socialize as often as an extrovert, but introverts tend to meet fewer people and prefer to have more meaningful conversations with them, while extroverts tend to spread their net far and wide. After an intense meeting or attending a networking event, introverts are more likely to “chill out” in a quiet corner to regroup and gather their thoughts, while extroverts tend to thrive in social settings. Introverts are more likely to patiently listen to multiple opinions and seek input from different parties before making a decision, while extroverts may find it easier to block out outside opinions and simply move forward on their decisions. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert; it’s just a different way of interacting with the world around them.

Unfortunately, it is the more outgoing, extroverted personalities that seem to grab the promotions and higher-level visible positions, leaving behind equally qualified introverts behind. But introverts can still achieve success in the business world; it just takes a bit of courage and common sense. So whether you want to lead an organization or simply develop better leadership skills in your current role, here are six tips for becoming a better leader.

1. Know your strengths — and embrace them. Do you know what your best skills are? Why do people enjoy working with you? What would they say your strengths are? Once you understand what your best assets are, play them up. For example, if one of your strengths is being a good listener – and many introverts are good listeners – use that skill to build empathy in business relationships.  If you are naturally curious about new people and new ideas, embrace that curiosity by asking lots of questions and showing sincere interest in the people you work with and the ideas you hear. That curiosity can lead to the development of innovative products or services that can be prosperous for your business.

2. Volunteer on team projects. Show off your skills or gain new ones by volunteering to be part of a team project. When you join a team or committee, you show you are willing to take on additional responsibilities. Higher ups will appreciate your initiative and willingness to share the workload. If you succeed in the task you volunteered for, colleagues may keep you in mind when they need someone for a specific task.

3. Honor your commitments. Nothing says you take responsibility seriously than keeping your word. If you say you’ll get the report done by Monday morning, do so. If you promise to make follow up phone calls to your best customers, do that. Every task you can do on time and without complaint leaves a positive impression and adds to your credibility. Honoring your commitments and following through on tasks is another way to show your leadership.

4. Lead by example. You’ve heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” That is true in the business world as well as in your personal life. Sometimes it’s best to let your actions speak for themselves. Good leaders don’t have to boast about their activities; they let their actions speak for themselves. Sometimes the best leaders are the quiet ones; they don’t necessarily have to act as a cheerleader. They demonstrate their leadership by simply going about their business quietly and unobtrusively and with little fanfare or drama.

5. Find someone to be your champion. Quiet introverted types aren’t comfortable blowing their own horn. Find someone to do it for you. Sometimes you need someone who knows you well, has worked with you previously, and knows what you are capable of; they are the best people to speak on your behalf. Good leaders surround themselves with people who are willing to champion their cause. Look around your office or among your peers. Is there one, two or three people you can identify who can be your champion? When you need that extra support or buddy to help you in a pinch, for a project or promote your cause, call on them to do some of your dirty work. That’s called having a strong support system.

6. Network for meaningful connections. Introverts tend to prefer small groups or one-on-one encounters with people, so attending conferences can be a bit intimidating. Look around the meeting room. Identify one or two people who may be there by themselves and approach them and introduce yourself. They may be just as intimidated by the prospect of networking as you are! Making small talk isn’t always easy for introverts but it is a necessary part of building relationships. You never know if that initial conversation can potentially open doors to more meaningful and profitable business partnerships.

The path to a more visible, leadership role can sometimes be a bit rocky for introverted types. But with a little courage and patience, you can build better leadership skills and more self-confidence to be the leader you believe you can be.

What Do Your Job Postings Say About Your Company?

entrepreneur-1103717_1280

I’m always browsing job ads, but I apply to very few of them, usually because  they are so poorly written that’s it’s difficult to understand exactly what they are looking for in a candidate. And I ask myself, “Why do I want to work for this company?”

Job ads are supposed to help you find qualified candidates for your open positions, but if they aren’t written clearly and succinctly, they may not bring the best-qualified prospects to your door. As Alison Green of AskaManager.com wrote in Inc. magazine recently,  job ads are a form of marketing. And it’s up to you to market your job openings to attract – and keep — the best candidates.

Here are five problem areas I’ve noted in job ads and what they may say about your company:

Problem 1: The ad is too vague, too general or lacking adequate detail. They contain phrases like “communications manager oversees the operations of the communications department,” which really doesn’t say anything, and candidates are left wondering what is expected of them.

What this says about your company is that you didn’t take the time to think through your hiring needs before committing those ideas to paper. How will this person spend their day? Will they supervise anyone? When you don’t have a clear idea what this job is to begin with, it will be difficult to explain it to anyone else.

Problem 2. The ad is heavy on technical language or industry jargon. In fact, there is so much jargon that it is difficult to know what the new hire will be expected to do. You have to ask yourself if all this heavy language is covering up a job that is actually quite thin, and are you making the job sound bigger and more important than it really is? Or are you more concerned with making a certain impression on candidates than clearly communicating your hiring needs?

What this says about your company is that your workplace may be more formal and structured, even more than you intend. Appearance may matter more than substance. If this is not true for your workplace, then it’s time to reevaluate and rewrite your job postings so they accurately reflect your company.

Problem 3. The ad is too lengthy and wordy. If your ad is presented as one long paragraph that runs on and on, it can show a lack of focus and a certain carelessness in the way you present your company. Perhaps you were running on a deadline or had too much work to do that you didn’t take the time to format the ad cleanly.

What this says is that your company is operating from the hip, so to speak. It gives the impression of messy, disorganized thinking. People are busy and don’t have time to read the small, fine print in your ad, so it is helpful to break up the copy in smaller paragraphs and use bullet points for key responsibilities, which is much easier to read. Take the time to edit down the copy too so you focus on the most important elements of the job description.

Problem 4. Too much emphasis on perks like free pizza for lunch every Friday and a game room, and not enough information about how the new employee will spend their day at work. While the perks may attract candidates to your company, are they the right candidates for the position? Why do they want to work for you – for the perks you offer or for the opportunity to contribute to your organization? The truth is, you can offer free pizza every week, but good, quality employees may still leave your company because they don’t get along with their boss, don’t feel they are doing meaningful work or they found a better job offer elsewhere.

What this says about your company is that you want to create the impression of having a fun, sociable place to work. But focusing primarily on the perks sends one of several possible messages. Perhaps there isn’t enough substance to the job itself, or employees work long hours so you feel a need to “reimburse” them with free lunches. Focusing on the fun, sociable aspect of the company is important, but don’t gloss over the details of the job, leaving candidates to wonder what the job is really about.

Problem 5. The ad asks for a salary history. This is the 21st century, yet it is surprising that some companies still ask for a candidate’s salary history.  You have to wonder what kind of work environment they have. Comparing salary history in today’s job market is difficult, if not impossible, because candidates may be coming from different locations or industries where salary levels are determined differently. Candidates may not have the same job title as the one they are applying for, so looking at what they made in previous jobs doesn’t give you a direct comparison. Asking for a salary history is not only obsolete, it is a wasteful, meaningless exercise.

What this says is that your company may be out of touch with current hiring trends. If you are not current with hiring practices, what other business practices are outdated at your company? You may need to rethink your hiring strategy and get yourself up to date on the newest recruiting tools.

For the record, here’s an example of a clearly written job description for an office manager/executive assistant. There is no doubt what this person will be doing. It is written in a friendly, conversational tone too.

When writing a posting for your next job opening, use your imagination and be creative. If you don’t have the desire or time to rewrite job descriptions, hire a professional writer to help you prepare something that will grab a candidate’s attention and make them want to work for your company.

Eight Reasons That Hiring Older Workers Makes Good Business Sense

dog-734689_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2020, one-fourth of the U.S. workforce will be over the age of 55.

Let that sink in for a minute.

One out of every four individuals working in the U.S. in the year 2020 will be over 55. Think about what that means for your business if you are an owner and employer. Are you prepared to hire older workers and have them become a viable part of your team? With so many 55-and-over individuals available for work, it would be a mistake to overlook them when it comes to hiring. They bring a lot of strong skills and business experience to the table, and they’re not about to retire any time soon. When you’re searching to hire the most qualified individuals for your business, don’t overlook the candidates over age 50 because they may have the skills that you need for your  business.
Still not convinced if older workers fit in with your organization? Consider these advantages:Although they bring

1. Older workers bring loads of business experience. That means they can usually hit the ground running from Day One and make an immediate impact. They’re not shy about asking questions or get clarification about a project, and they’re eager and willing to learn.

According to a 2014 survey of the Society of Human Resource Management, 77 percent of HR managers surveyed cited work experience as the top advantage of hiring older workers, followed closely by maturity and professionalism (71 percent) and a strong work ethic (70 percent).

2. Older workers won’t break the bank. Although they bring a lot of work experience, they’re not expensive. In fact, in most situations, they’re not looking for a promotion or an office in the VIP suite. They’re more interested in finding a job with a steady income, one that allows them to contribute their talents. That desire for stability makes them attractive to employers who may tire of younger workers jumping ship after giving them on-the-job training.

3. Older workers are willing to learn new things and develop their skills. If they’ve lost a job or had an extended period of unemployment, some may have gone back to school for an advanced degree or taken computer classes to update their skills. So they return to the workforce well prepared and better educated to tackle today’s biggest business issues. And don’t worry about a lack of understanding of current technology either. Today’s 50+ workers are more technologically savvy than previous generations. These individuals have grown up with older versions of technology, so learning new technology shouldn’t be a problem.

4. Many older workers have a stronger work ethic than their younger peers. They understand what is expected of them, and you won’t find them standing idly in the break room gossiping with co-workers. They arrive on time, are willing to work overtime if necessary and they treat everyone with respect. In fact, their work ethic makes them excellent candidates for customer service positions, according to Over50JobBoard.com.

5. Older workers are lo7.yal and reliable. They’re not looking to climb the corporate ladder or the next business opportunity for themselves. By age 50, they’ve already reached the pinnacle of success in their careers and in the twilight of their careers, they simply want to contribute to a cause, be active in the community and stay relevant in the business world. You know you can count on them to arrive on time, be respectful of other workers and with clients, and perform their tasks efficiently and with little fuss or drama.

6. Older workers bring maturity and professionalism to the job.  Because of their experience, they have faced numerous business scenarios requiring good communication, clear thinking, problem-solving ability and an ability to look at a situation from different angles. As a result, there is a maturity in their decision-making that you won’t find in younger workers who haven’t gained the experience to make knowledgeable decisions.

7. Older workers are ideal stress relievers. Because they have faced many high-pressured situations in the past, nothing fazes them. They can remain patient, calm and cool-headed in the most stressful situations.

8. Older workers have a positive attitude. They’re generally cheerful and are grateful to be working at all. Think of the Robert DeNiro’s character in “The Intern,” who was always happy to help out his co-workers, do as he was asked without argument, and always had a smile on his face. He was just happy to belong to a group of dynamic professionals and contribute his insights and experience to the job.

The next time you need to hire someone for a job, don’t overlook the over-50 candidates. They have a lot to offer and may have just the skills you need to help your business thrive.

Tips for Working Productively in Open Office Environment

office-space-1744803_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I recently began working in an office with an open space plan. My staffing representative warned me about the open space when she set up the interview, so I was prepared to see how the space differed from previous offices I worked in that weren’t as open. My initial reaction was that it reminded me of a news room, with a line of desks facing outward toward the windows and another line of desks facing inward toward the inside offices.

Noise can sometimes be a problem in the office. One co-worker who sits near the front reception area often slips into a small conference room nearby with his laptop to concentrate on his project.  Other times, he wears headphones to escape office chatter while he works at his desk.

Open space floor plans have been around for several decades, but it’s only in recent years that they garnered criticism from employees who claim that they don’t provide a lot of privacy and can be noisy. Do a Google search about open offices, and you’ll find loads of articles that downplay their strengths, such as these stories from The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

True, they have many good points, such as letting in more natural light, allowing employees window views that they would not have had otherwise, and producing a closer, cohesive working unit among workers. Open office spaces were designed to encourage better collaboration among employees, but studies show that isn’t always the case. The truth is, not everyone works productively in an open office environment. Some people work in positions that require more privacy for interviews, such as human resources (or as they call it these days, “talent management”), while others need quiet time to read or write reports or technical information.

The good news is that many employers are offering their workers alternative arrangements for dealing with noise issues. By adding sound proof rooms, creating quiet zones and rearranging floor plans, many employers have been successful at accommodating workers’ need to escape disruptions.

Open office spaces are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to work in them. Here are a few tips for working more productively in an open office environment without losing your sanity:

* Move to another location in the office. If things get too noisy, and you really must concentrate on a project, see if you can slip into a nearby empty office or conference room if it’s available. Another possible solution is to put out a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your desk.

* Keep headphones handy. You don’t have to be listening to music or a podcast. When you slip on headphones, you subtly and clearly communicate to others that you are not available. It’s comparable to putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

* Alter your work schedule. What are your most productive times to work? For some, getting into the office a little earlier, say 7:00 am, before everyone else, gives you at least two hours of quiet time to work on a project with no disruptions.

* Work from home. Sometimes working from home may be more productive than working in an office. If you really need quiet time and you know you can be productive there, and as long as your supervisor approves the time outside the office, then working from home might be an option worth looking into.

Open floor plans at the office are here to stay. But knowing how you work in any environment and knowing what options you have to deal with unwanted distractions can help you remain focused so you produce your best work.

Want to Improve Your Business Skills? Try Working a Crossword Puzzle

play-stone-1237457_1280

An editor I worked with many years ago used to set out the day’s New York Times crossword puzzle so that everyone in the office could fill in the blanks that he could never finish. Usually by the end of the day, that crossword puzzle was completely filled in.

Another company I know has one or two jigsaw puzzles set up in one corner of the office in varying stages of completion. Workers who pass by can work on them, filling in a few pieces at a time while taking a break from their own tasks. Little by little, the puzzles are getting becoming more complete.

You don’t have to work in an office with a group of co-workers to enjoy the benefits of working puzzles. Computer games make it possible to complete puzzles on your own. Whether you play Free Flow, Angry Birds or Tetris, on your own or with a group of people, on the computer or in an office, computer games and puzzles can do more for your professional life than just provide a temporary respite from the daily grind. They can also help you build skills that are as beneficial to your business success as they are to your personal life. Here’s what games and puzzles can do for you:

They can help you solve problems. 
When playing games and puzzles, you are faced with a task, and it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve it, whether it’s to arrive at a certain destination, overcome an obstacle or reach some other goal. You may not have all the information you need to get there so you have to make the best decisions possible, and you may not have a lot of time to make them. Games like chess can also help you learn to anticipate an opponent’s moves so you can be prepared to respond appropriately. The more problems you solve in puzzles and games, the more skilled you become in solving problems in your everyday business life.

They help you process data and meet deadlines. 
Since some games are timed, you may be faced with a running clock – or a looming deadline — while trying to solve a problem. When you don’t have a lot of time to work with, you have to make snap decisions. You learn to quickly assess a problem, come up with possible solutions then decide which one will work best in that situation – all while racing against the clock. If you work in a fast-paced environment, these types of timed games can help you become better problem solvers while under pressure to meet a deadline.

They help improve concentration and focus. 
Playing puzzles and games helps you focus on the task at hand and block out distractions and improve your concentration. When you are able to focus on the task at hand with minimal interruption, you can resolve the problem or reach goals more quickly. Participating in games and puzzles proves that multi-tasking is counterproductive because you need to have good concentration to successfully complete the puzzle or problem in front of you.

They help develop self-trust and intuition.
When working on problems at work or working on a puzzle in your spare time, you may find yourself working with limited data. With less than optimal amounts of information available, you have to find other means to solve problems. Usually that means trusting your own past experience and your intuition to know what your next move may be.

They help improve your emotional and mental outlook. 
The most obvious benefit to playing games is the emotional lift it gives you. Games are just plain fun, and when you take time to have fun, your outlook improves. By setting aside your own work problems to focus on a puzzle or game for even 10 or 15 minutes gives your brain a rest so that when you do come back to work, you can look at a problem or task with a clear head. And with a clear head comes a solution you did not see before.

Clearly, games and puzzles offer many benefits. Just don’t overdo it on the playing part and refrain from using games to avoid working on a project you should be doing. If you have a habit of spending too much time playing games and puzzles, and not enough time working on your latest client project, perhaps you need to time yourself. Games and puzzles are a leisure activity after all, not a key part of your job. So set the clock for 30 minutes for play time, then get back to work.

Gummy Vitamins May Be the Key to Your Business Success

candy-2

I was out shopping for vitamins recently. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options available on the store shelves. How many versions of multi-vitamins could one person possibly buy?

I was especially intrigued by the availability of gummy vitamins. Gummies – those sweet, squishy, fruit-flavored candies that are a favorite of kids and adults alike – were being sold as vitamins. For people like me who have a sweet tooth but hate taking pills, gummy vitamins seemed like a godsend. For years, I had a problem remembering to take my vitamins. Vitamins are a necessary evil. You have to take them to achieve good health, but taking them can be, well, a real pill.

I decided to take a chance on those gummy vitamins. I love gummy candies anyway, can eat a whole small bag of Haribo’s in one afternoon.  Whoever came up with the idea to combine vitamins with gummy candies is a genius. Since I started taking them, I never forget to take them.

That shopping experience got me thinking about other innovative products on the market today. What makes them unique? What do they offer consumers that other competing products don’t? Why are they successful?

The answer is simple. They solve a problem.

The gummy vitamins provide a solution to individuals like me who have a hard time remembering to take vitamins. Turn them into a sweet treat, and people will gladly seek them out and take them regularly. Who can say no to candy?

Self-adhesive stamps is another genius idea. What problem do they solve? While most people don’t use stamps these days, choosing to use email and online billing to conduct business, stamps still come in handy for sending greeting cards and donations. (Yes, I still mail my donations and greeting cards by snail mail.) Self-adhesive stamps save time and I avoid the yucky experience of licking stamps before affixing them to envelopes, and I don’t get a horrible aftertaste from the glue the way I did with traditional stamps. Instead, self-adhesive stamps affix to envelopes with minimal effort, and makes mass mailings much easier to complete in shorter periods of time.

There are numerous examples of products like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps that solve a problem. What makes them special? What makes them successful? Like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps, these products solve a problem.

Think about your own business, product or service. What problems does it solve for your clients and customers? How will it make their lives easier and better? Once you understand the problem that your product or service can solve, it’s much easier to market that product to the people who need it.

The same concept holds true if you are the product you are marketing to potential clients. Think about your own talents. How are they unique to the marketplace? What solutions can your talents and experience provide? The more you understand your own talents and qualities, the better able you will be able to solve a client’s or employer’s problem. And the more successful you are likely to become.

What do you think is the most innovative product or service on the market today? What problems do they solve? Share your thoughts below.

How Stories Are Revealed to Us — One Layer at a Time

candy

Have you ever stopped to consider where stories come from? I’m not just talking about the words on a page. It’s more than that. It’s the stories we view around us – at an art museum, on stage at a theater, behind the brick and glass storefront building, or behind the eyes of child.

Stories come in various shapes, sizes and formats. One single item can produce multiple story lines, which I call layers. Think of an onion. You peel back the skin to reveal multiple layers underneath. Every story is like that. It isn’t one single story being told; it is several, and not all at the same time.

I came to this conclusion while wandering the French Impressionism exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago recently, and again at the Shedd Aquarium. I later contemplated those same ideas as I watched movies and TV shows, and listened to music.

With each work of art, there is more than one story being told. First, there is a story about the work itself – how it came into being, the creator’s motivation and inspiration, and the tools and materials the artist chose to use to create it.

But behind the artwork’s story, there is a story about the artist. Where does she/he live? What was happening in their lives when they were creating this piece? Why did they become an artist? What message did they want to share?

I think of the French Impressionist artists and I wonder about their personal stories. Why did Van Gogh cut off his ear, and what did he really see when he painted The Starry Night? Why was Monet fascinated by the different plays of light throughout the day? How did Toulouse-Lautrec compensate for his physical disabilities?

Then there is the story of the museum and its relationship to the work and to the artist. Why is the museum showing this piece of work? How did they acquire it? How are they displaying the work – in a darkened room with a single spotlight on it, or in an open space with similar works?

I saw similar stories at the Shedd Aquarium and its display of sea life from around the world. From the smallest fish to the dolphins and whales, there are stories about each one. Why are they so important to our knowledge of the sea world? How is each one created? What does it eat? How does it move or swim?

Trace that same story to the region in which the fish live. Do they swim in the Caribbean, or in the Midwestern lakes? Part of the answer to that question is biological of course. You won’t find a stingray swimming along the shores of Lake Michigan, when it needs warm salt water of the ocean to survive.

Apply that layering approach to the people in our lives. Each one has a story. Some are obvious, carried on their sleeve. Others are deeply hidden, but you can see it in their eyes. “The eyes are the window to the soul.”  I believe that to be true, which makes me wonder about the people who frequently wear sunglasses, even on a cloudy day. What story about themselves are they reluctant to reveal?

Stories abound all around us. We only see the ones on the surface. There are layers of stories for each tree, each animal and each person we meet in our lives. But we are all like onions, with layers upon layers of stories within us. It takes a certain amount of self-awareness to know those stories are there. It takes even more courage to share those stories with others.

Workplace Trends for 2017

office-1209640_640

As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

Eight Books Worth Reading in 2017

CAM00666

As the first week of the new year comes to a close, I’m still closing the door on 2016. I did a lot of reading last year, getting caught up on books that were lying on my book shelf for months, and in some cases, years.

If you’re looking for a good read in 2017, I might suggest the following titles which I read last year. Some are well known, while others are rather obscure. All are entertaining, thought-provoking reads, guaranteed to stay with you long after the story ends.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman 
Historical fiction set in 70 C.E. in ancient Israel during the Roman invasion of Masada, where 900 Jews held out against the Roman army. According to ancient historians, only two women and five children survived. Five years in the making, this is their story, told by four incredibly bold, resourceful women. The writing is authentic and poignant. At times, I felt I was watching an epic movie unfold. Considered to be Hoffman’s best work, so be prepared to be swept away by her colorful and dramatic storytelling.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book sat on my shelf for several months until I learned of Lee’s death last spring. I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. The writing is authentically southern, so at times it was difficult to follow. But beneath the language lay a story of racial tensions in a small town in the South and one man’s attempt to teach his children to treat all people, no matter how different in color or religion, with dignity and respect. Written from the viewpoint of a six-year old girl, the story is both timely and timeless, and just as important today as it was then.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Long before the Netflix series, Kerman shares her observations and experiences during her 15-month prison term at a federal correctional facility for women in Danbury, Connecticut. She also shares the stories of many of the women who she met along the way. The first-hand account reveals how Kerman and her fellow inmates managed to survive the day-to-day boredom of prison life, as well as their compassion for each other. Fascinating, if not sobering, read.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
McCullers was only 23 when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a book filled with humanity and compassion far beyond her years. Like Lee’s Mockingbird, this book also tackles racial tensions with grace and dignity. Even more poignant is how McCullers paints her characters, showcasing their strengths and vulnerabilities, and just how isolated each one is amidst their personal and moral crises. I was most fascinated by Singer, the deaf mute who everyone seemed drawn to, yet who understood very little of what they were telling him. It is through his thoughts and his eyes that we ultimately see how the heart is a lonely hunter, constantly searching for connection with like-minded souls.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Most of us in the free world would have difficulty imagining living in a society that banned certain books and prohibited women from furthering their education. Nafisi was a professor of English Literature in Iran. When Islamic morality squads began, Nafisi had the courage to set up secret gatherings for seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. Reading this memoir and their discussions of famous writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James, made me appreciate the freedoms we have in our country as well as the classic writing I have yet to experience.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Genova’s book reads like a memoir, and I suppose it could be. Still Alice is a poignant look at Alzheimer’s disease. The story opens with Alice Howland living a full and active life as a psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert on linguistics. As the story progresses, we see her become increasingly disoriented and forgetful. This is her journey and her fight to prolong the onset of the disease for as long as possible. This heart-breaking story will make you think, “Gee, this could be me someday.”

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Another novel that reads like a memoir, An Unnecessary Woman is the story of a book-loving, obsessive and isolated 72-year-old woman, whose belief that she is “unnecessary” in the world is shaped by her upbringing in the Middle East. She used her love of books and her translation work to hide from the world. Despite her efforts, circumstances force her to come out of her shell and interact with the world. The ending gives us all hope that we don’t have to be alone, that we are all necessary to one another, no matter where we live.

10% Happier by Dan Harris
Written with wit and journalistic integrity, 10% Happier is the memoir of Dan Harris, the weekend anchor of Good Morning America. This is his journey into the world of mindfulness and meditation, which at first, Harris fights. What I found intriguing about this book is the journalistic approach that Harris takes in which he interviews numerous high-profile experts about the experience of meditation, from Deepak Chopra to the Dalai Lama. We learn from Harris’s lessons, his experiences. Meditation is not as easy as it looks, and the lessons we learn about ourselves aren’t so simple either.

Happy New Year, and Happy Reading!

Movie Review: La La Land Straddles the Line Between Fantasy and Reality

Highly-touted film is creativity in motion.

It’s being billed as a top contender for the Academy Award for Best Picture, earned numerous SAG and Golden Globe nominations and has already garnered Critics Choice awards for Best Picture and Best Director. La La Land, (http://www.lalaland.movie/) directed by Damien Chazelle (who also directed Whiplash), takes us on a musical adventure in the city of big dreams, Los Angeles. From the opening dance sequence on a southern California freeway to a duet while floating among the stars, the entertainment never stops.

La La Land tells the story of two aspiring young artists who cross paths while stuck in a freeway traffic jam. Emma Stone plays a budding actress who has confidence issues, and Ryan Gosling is a struggling jazz musician who stubbornly refuses to sell out on his dream of owning his own jazz club. As their lives cross paths, the audience is taken along on their journey, with every joy and heartache the characters experience along the way.

The film is defined best by its dance sequences, which are both entertaining and magical, and the special effects add a fantasy-like charm. Stone and Gosling prove to be surprisingly good singers. If you enjoy the musicals from the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s, La La Land is certain to please you. I don’t want to spoil all the fun but you can watch the trailer here.

As Stone and Gosling’s goals begin to conflict with one another and their paths diverge, reality begins to settle in. Each came to LA with a vision for their career, which altered with each failed audition or as new opportunities arose. When confronted with each challenge, their characters re-assessed and questioned their paths. Just like in the real world

In one scene, for example, Gosling is approached by an old musical acquaintance (played by John Legend) who invites him to join his band. Gosling hesitates at first, but later changes his mind. As he stands up on stage playing music that runs counter to his jazz background, Stone and the movie audience is left wondering if he sold out on his dream. Or did he catch a glimpse of his own reality, that he would never open his own jazz club without a cash cow to support him? In relaxing his own stubborn stance on jazz, he opened up to an opportunity – as distasteful as it was — that gave him a path toward his dream.

Sound familiar? How many of us as struggling artists or disgruntled business owners have found ourselves hitting the pavement in search of more steady, secure work. There is something to be said for security, especially when you come from nothing and are barely making ends meet. At those times, realism sets in; the fantasy has to be set aside for the time being.

And that message may be both a strength and a weakness of La La Land. This film does such a wonderful job building the fantasy, creating dream sequences that transport us to an alternate reality, that it can be difficult to accept the harsh truth of reality when we come face to face with it. Many people may find the film’s ending a bit disappointing, a letdown after the joyous highs of the film. The truth is, it ended the only way it could.

Stone and Gosling do live happily ever after – just not in the way we expect. Reality can be difficult to accept when you’ve been living in La La Land.