slubs in the city

Slub (adj): Maverick; unorthodox; independent in behavior or thought.


2 Comments

a+d+u+l+t = ?

Fun fact: I’ve developed a socially painful white girl swagger.

I’ve always loved Minneapolis, although to be truthful I’ve just always loved big cities. Having been born and raised on the outskirts of two major metropolitan areas, I’ve come to associate suburbia with my stereotypically American dream to settle down and start a family. Minneapolis, meanwhile, represents the beginning of my untethered young adulthood – big, noisy, sexy, skyscrapers and happy hour and high heels clicking down the skyway. Granted all types of people (most of whom live in suburbia, like my dad) work and play in Minneapolis, so my vision of the city may be selectively blind. Still, when the sun sets and I venture out into the electric city glow after work, my white girl swagger comes out in full force. I really can’t control it. Living and working in Minneapolis straight up makes me feel like a cool adult.

…aaaaaand this is why.

This past weekend, the slubs gathered together at Kat’s house to commune with good friends and appreciate our mutual slubiness. In between bites of strawberries dripping with chocolate fondue we clucked like hens about work and school. In a natural progression the conversation slipped into questions about the future, and we asked each other: what’s your plan for next year?

Inherent in that question is the assumption that everyone would have already mapped out their lives for the next few years. We’re all adults here – that’s what adults do. The white girl swagger is proof.

Out to coffee with my mother and a few good friends last night, the question came up again. It’s entertaining and cathartic to hash out the details of past events, and if you’ve got a flare for storytelling, the past is your jam. But the future: that’s what everyone is really interested in. There’s a reason Americans are chronically more stressed than our European neighbors. We have a constant, persistent need to know what’s next, and we push ourselves and each other to figure out the answer.

As American youth, our transition from childhood into adulthood isn’t necessarily marked by a standard ritual event. If I were required to hunt a fearsome beast to prove my maturity, the best I could capture in suburbia would be a bunny or a squirrel. Even graduating from college or getting your first job isn’t a universal indicator for every American teenager that he or she is now an adult. Let’s take off our rose-tinted glasses: not everyone has access to higher education. Many children spend their sacred younger years working to support their families.

Still, at a certain time, society at large has begun to assume that my generation is now part of the adult masses. And we perpetuate the idea: I can tell anyone I meet that I work for a financial company in downtown Minneapolis and pass as mature.

But what really makes us adults? Is it the coffee we drink? The people in our network? The neighborhood we live in? The furniture we bought at Ikea? The bills we pay? When we get married, buy a car or a house, have a baby, does that mean we’re officially adults? Perhaps it’s the salary we make, or the type of employment we have, or the degrees we hang on our wall. Maybe it’s in the answer to the all-imposing future question: I have a plan, I’ve worked it out. Stand aside – I’m on my way.

What makes us adults? Try typing the question into Google. You’ll return a mess of jumbled information and very few answers. This is the best thing I’ve found, for all my brief internet searching:

 “Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” – Margaret Atwood

If you’re an adult, please share with the slubs and our readers how you got there. For all my white girl swagger, I think I may still be trying to figure it out.

con amor,

shan

Advertisements


5 Comments

let’s talk greenbacks.

Two summers ago I read a book by Barbara Stanny called “Prince Charming Isn’t Coming: How Women Get Smart about Their Money”.

In chapter one of her book Ms. Stanny recalls how, on her twenty-first birthday, her parents revealed to her the trust fund established in her name. “‘You’re a very rich girl, Barbara,’” her father explains at the breakfast table. Stanny goes on to recount: “‘ You’ll never have to worry,’ I remember my dad saying that morning. It was the only advice my parents ever gave me about money. ‘Don’t worry.’”

At 21, my experience with financial management was a bit different than Stanny’s. Shockingly enough I wasn’t handed a trust fund document the morning of my twenty-first (although I did climb Mt. Sinai that morning, arguably as cool as any other birthday celebration). Far from neglecting to give me money advice, my parents have tried to instill within me the type of financial wisdom that I’m sure many children my age have received from their own parents. My mother taught me how to use and balance a check book. My father periodically discussed the fate of his stocks and the nature of his retirement account. I was given an allowance as a child and encouraged to handle it wisely. I was gently required to get a job when I was 16 and from then on began to pay for more and more of my expenses, like clothing, entertainment and gas.

When I was a senior at St. Olaf, my father instructed me to personally handle taking out a few student loans to pay for that year of college. I was in and out of the Financial Aid Office so often for a span of two weeks that the advisors began to remember my name and could recall my specific case without the prompting of their notes. It was an incredibly frustrating process, but I learned more about student loans in those two weeks than I had ever learned before. And then, after graduating, my parents informed me that I would thereafter be more or less financially independent.

I am a blessed child. My mom and dad have given me every comfort I could have asked for, and more – very, very few children in this world are nearly as lucky as I have been. Still, like Ms. Stanny (and probably like many of you), I’m finding that it’s a struggle to own my financial stability.

Money is a taboo topic, and yet it makes the world go ‘round. There seems to be a direct correlation between wealth and prosperity, between poverty and difficulty. Like Kat mentioned in a previous post, poverty isn’t simply a lack of financial capital; poverty is very much also a lack of opportunity. To evade poverty, to provide for ourselves and our families, to do and experience the things we enjoy, we find employment in part to reap the monetary rewards. And yet, as a society, we are notoriously stupid with our financial lives.

My experience with Thrivent has opened my eyes to this reality. Part of the beauty of our organization is our commitment to the concept of education. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to tell people that you can provide a learning experience for them based on financial wisdom and best practices; often, we require scare tactics to get us to listen. The facts detailing the ways Americans spend their money provide no shortage of shocks to the system. For example, did you know that…

  • …77% of the workforce surveyed by CareerBuilder in 2010 was living paycheck to paycheck?
  • …according to a 2010 Harris report, 34% of Americans are completely without retirement savings – even though we spend, on average, 20 years in retirement?
  • …in October of 2011, Americans owed $2,457.5 billion total in outstanding consumer credit?

So if our money situation is so universally bad, why do we as a people tend to ignore our financial wellbeing?

Part of my job at Thrivent is to promote a financial literacy program on college campuses. We instruct our student leaders to educate their peers on being wise with their finances now, especially because they’re young and have a lifetime to cultivate the right money habits and make decisions that will secure their financial future. It sounds boring, but it’s vitally important. I know the wisdom of my own advice – I’ve taken major steps, like creating a checking account separate from my parents’, maxing out my 401k match, and establishing an automatic payment for my monthly rent. But I still don’t have my own credit card. I don’t save nearly as much as I could each month for major expenses that will be coming fast down the pipeline: graduate school, a mortgage, a family. I’m lucky if I balance my checkbook bi-monthly. I don’t know what my account balance is half the time – I just know it’s above zero. I’m pretty much a walking hypocrite.

Very few people like to deal with their finances. Like so many things in our life we assume that, if we don’t pay attention to it, perhaps our financial problems will just go away. We spend money that we don’t have in order to obtain the standard of living we think we deserve.

So, is there a solution to our ignorance? I’d like to think so. But the point of this post isn’t to provide you with the answers—it’s to kick-start your own search.

Here are some resources I’ve used to help me begin my own journey to financial wisdom. Who knows – they might prove useful to you too…

smartypig! so cute. so financially wise.

con amor,

shan


2 Comments

lo, how a rose e’er blooming

When Kat and I went to the Minnesota State Fair this year, we were convinced that we’d grab some swag and make off like bandits with plenty of free stuff. Slubs are, after all, huge fans of anything with a big goose egg on the price tag. That dream was quickly snuffed out, unfortunately, as we searched in vain for cardboard pickle hats and plastic neon rulers. We each limped home that night with nothing more than giant food babies and a sticker from the MPR table.

That sticker is now proudly displayed at my desk space. It’s pretty much the coolest sticker ever – bright green with stark white writing for contrast, perfectly circular, aesthetically appealing. When you approach my desk it’s practically the first thing you see. And it also happens to loudly proclaim that I listen to 99.5, MPR’s classical radio station.

No one has ever commented on my MPR sticker…until yesterday. And who should make the first crack at my musical tastes but the Vice President of Marketing Development.

Bill McKinney is about as cool as they come. He flits in and out of the office because he’s crazy busy, but he’s got a normal desk like the rest of us and doesn’t like to show off that his boss is the President and CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He went to Carleton, a fact which he never fails to remind me of because he’s populated his office with Oles and is just now realizing how traitorous that looks. He comes in early, he stays late, but he loves talking sports with the cluster of men who sit a pod away from me. He’s just really, really cool. The high school popularity contest truly never ends, and for that reason I want him to recognize me because he’s a small but integral part of my eventual success.

Yesterday, as he was breezing past my desk to go talk soccer with the guys, he stopped short and said, “What’s that sticker for?”

I was thrown off my game. I tried to think of something witty and memorable to respond with. I said: “The classical station. MPR.” Genius!

He squinted. “You don’t really listen to classical, do you?”

I nodded.

He smiled. He was amused at my expense. “Only people in their 50s listen to classical.”

“And me,” I replied.

He conceded the point.

Bill McKinney will now know me as that Ole girl who listens to classical and is a generation or two behind her peers, but at least he’ll know me. And I’m okay with that, because I’m proud to say that I listen to classical music. And I’m proud to say that I love it.

As some of you know, I’m pretty obsessive about the holidays. It’s my favorite time of year, minus the fact God has chosen to punish our well-meaning state with freezing wind and mountains of snow. And to jumpstart the festivities, I begin listening to Christmas music on November 1st. I’ve maintained this tradition since I was a child. I will keep it faithfully until I die.

Listening to my classical holiday Pandora station this afternoon, in open defiance of Bill McKinney and his expectations for someone my age (please, like Katy Perry is so much better), Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming began to play. The song is so breathtakingly beautiful it made me pause and stare dreamily at my computer.

Listen to the hymn. Let it fill you. That is why I am 23 and an avid fan of classical music.

con amor,

shan


Leave a comment

Brain Quest

Data. Information. Facts. Trivia. Learning. I love them all.

I was the child who read the encyclopedia. Played trivia games. Watched Jeopardy. Read every book I could get my hands on. Once, I wrote a report on the Bubonic Plague in 4th grade. For fun.

This, in part, was due to my parents. When all of the other children my age went to amusement parks for vacation, we went to museums. This is probably because of my mom’s fear of rides and my dad’s hatred of crowds, but also because of their passion to make sure that Chris (my younger brother) and I loved to learn. They definitely succeeded. (Especially with Chris. He is a music and math major, who is going pre-med. Yes. Figure that one out)

My favorite places to go when I was little: Living History Farms and the Iowa Historical Society. When we would go on vacation, I would read all the guide books, learn how geographical features were formed, research all of the animals we would see (remember those books that you could fill with animal fact sheets? Chris and I were obsessed.) I also loved going to the zoo and learning about the animals. My parents scoffed at the families calling the lions, tigers, etc. “big kitties”; that wasn’t allowed in our house. They were Bengal tigers or snow leopards.

In the car we did not watch movies. We read books (or listened to books on tape like Matilda and Harry Potter). Played the “alphabet game” (First you choose a category:animals; The first person says the name of an animal: Jaguar; the second person must then come up with an animal whose name begins with the last letter of the previous word: Rhodesian Ridgeback, then Kangaroo, then Orangutan, etc….endlessly entertaining!). Played Brain Quest, which is possibly the greatest children’s game ever! Just tons of random facts. Questions were on the front, answers on the back. YES.

Now, from all this intentional learning I have gained two very important things. Number one: a lot of useless, although intriguing, information (I know more about the Battle of Little Round Top than strictly necessary). Number two: an obsession for gathering facts.

At work, we keep track of our “strengths.” My top strength is “input.” Now to be honest, before taking the strengths finder, I was a bit skeptical. I mean, one of those “career-path-finder-what-should-I-do-with-my-life” tests told me that I should be a plumber. Not something I would excel at; once my dad drove over an hour to fix my toilet (in two minutes. Thanks, Daddy!). However, I was surprised at how well my strengths described me.

This is how input is described: “People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. They like to collect and archive all kinds of information.” Truth. I collect data like its my job (it’s not). As a point of clarification however: Data entry=awful. Hours on wikipedia=awesome.

Now, what was the point of this entry?…Oh! Yes. Transitioning into a work atmosphere from an academic atmosphere has been an interesting journey for me. In school, spending hours researching in the good old reference room was useful. Even if I didn’t include every bit of information that I found, I always thought that the background information informed my paper. But work. I don’t work in a job where research is a primary focus (although I do get to do some and our organization is always doing cutting edge research on volunteerism!). I don’t spend all day collecting information; I spend a lot more time talking to people, thinking about ways to expand membership, marketing on social media sites, advertising for volunteer positions, etc. I do like people, too :).

But, somehow, I always find ways to collect data. I wrote an article for our newsletter. It was one page long and included interviews with six people. I had to do research for it. I did more than necessary. 4 hours of unnecessary. Well, I did end up using three very great pieces of data and finding out some fantastic things about AmeriCorps.

Also, Twitter. Have you ever been on Twitter? It is like a goldmine of interesting articles and facts and names and dates. I have to update our Twitter page and look for “retweets.” Woof. This is just a productivity stopper… but has lead to some great and informative finds!

I do want to say a few things. First of all, I LOVE my job. This is not an exaggeration. I mean, I get to spend all day focusing on volunteerism. I LOVE volunteerism. I love the work we do. I believe in the mission of our organization and the innovative knowledge we produce. And the other part of my job? I get to work with kids. YES. Secondly, I do get things done at work, mostly because I am pretty darn good at multitasking. Why yes, I can write a report on my research findings, reply to emails from volunteers, brainstorm ideas for fundraising, and listen to Ira Glass at the same time.

So. Surviving in the real world. Away from text books and lectures, late night studying and academic discussion, I find myself a little lost. A little lonely for my data. But I’m learning to adapt. I am learning to apply my data mining techniques at work, as I sift through resumes of potential interns, finish up research that I conducted, and continue to learn more each day about volunteerism. I am learning to take advantage of educational opportunities within my job and outside of work (I went to two trainings last week!). I will forever be a data forager and hoarder. I like that.

My ultimate brain quest: collect as much data, information, and ideas as possible and use my archived facts to create lasting, effectual, and just social change. Probably through volunteerism.

Much slub love,

Kat


1 Comment

i wikipedia-ed it. wikipedia’d? wikipediaed? wikipediad?

Over the past week, I’ve been feeling really behind on work.

For those of you who don’t know much about me, in May I was hired on as a Social Entrepreneurship Fellow at Thrivent Financial – which basically means I’m an intern for a contracted year. I graduated with a Political Science and Spanish double major and a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies, so how I ended up interning for a financial institution is anyone’s best guess. I had worked for Thrivent the summer before my senior year at Olaf, though, so I figured it would be easy enough to jump back into the corporate world. And for a few months, it was. I started work on June 13th, and up until about one week ago things were coming along fine. And then, for some reason, I got majorly stressed out.

I tried to explain what was going on to my coworker, Lane, who is now a hired full time employee but last year was a Fellow like me. He listened to my rambling like a champ and then explained that he definitely experienced a steep learning curve during the first few months of his fellowship, and that he had struggled to understand how all of the smaller pieces fit together into one big story.

I’ll be honest with you (because apparently for me this blog is all about confessions): I’ve never understood the meaning of the phrase “steep learning curve”. That hasn’t stopped me from using it occasionally, because I’m a poser who thinks she understands the English language. But beyond a vague sense that it implies fighting an uphill battle, I’m clueless about the roots of the phrase. So naturally I hit up Wikipedia.

“Steep learning curve”

The familiar expression “steep learning curve” may refer to either of two aspects of a pattern in which the marginal rate of required resource investment is initially low, perhaps even decreasing at the very first stages, but eventually increases without bound.

Early use of the metaphor focused on the pattern’s positive aspect, namely the potential for quick progress in learning (as measured by, e.g., memory accuracy or the number of trials required to obtain a desired result) at the introductory or elementary stage. Over time, however, the metaphor has become more commonly used to focus on the pattern’s negative aspect, namely the difficulty of learning once one gets beyond the basics of a subject.

Right now, I think the connotation of “steep learning curve” as I understand it is more negative.

I didn’t anticipate that going into the working world would necessarily be hard, although I did expect it to be challenging. I wasn’t the valedictorian of my graduating class and I didn’t leave with any top honors, but my time at St. Olaf helped me to grow in self-confidence and personal pride. I had professors, friends and employers who thankfully noticed the skills I do possess, and inspired me to reach for higher goals and to test out new ways of thinking. Because of that blessing I had expected to dive headfirst into Thrivent with Ole innovation to burn. There’s something about being on the Hill that makes you believe you can be a social activist superhero the minute you wave goodbye to the wind turbine.

There came a time last week, though, where I found myself staring from my To-Do list to my computer without the ability to process where the two were supposed to meet. I had answered so many emails, scheduled so many meetings for other people, and jumped between so many tasks, that I hadn’t really advanced any of my projects to a stage I felt comfortable with.  Simple things that were only supposed to last a few days – at least in my mind – were consuming more than a week. And I realized: because I’ve spent the majority of my developmental years in school, I have no idea how to feasibly measure the time it takes to complete a task outside of the classroom. Following a major initiative through from point A to point Z, and dealing with points J, O and X in the process, can take much more energy and commitment than even the most horrific of Spanish papers. And maybe I don’t know as much about working at Thrivent as I thought I did.

The learning curve is steep.

So when Lane told me that it had taken him a few months to get used to life in the corporate office, I was relieved. Right now it feels like I’ve taken two giant steps back from where I was on June 13th. But I suppose the point of the learning curve isn’t to intimidate, or to make you feel like you’re faced with an impossible climb. It’s to encourage you to embrace the upward momentum…even if it sometimes feels like you have to claw your way to the top.

After taking some time to reflect I’m beginning to reconcile myself to the reality that, in the end at least, the curve is all about the process – it’s about what it takes to learn. I’m sure I can speak for the other slubs when I say that post-graduation has been all about the learning curve. We’ve struggled with our property management company. We’ve had to figure out how to pay bills and cook meals. We’ve had good days in the office, but we’ve had just as many days where we left wondering how we were going to accomplish everything we had set out to do. But if St. Olaf has taught us anything, it’s how to love learning.

So I guess today I’ll make a list of the small things I have yet to do, and find satisfaction in checking them off. I won’t be too critical of the time it takes me to make those check marks, but I will be sure to strive to make them. I’ll block off time specifically to check and respond to emails, and then I’ll try to go about my day.

To all of you fighting your way up the learning curve: I’m right there with you. We’re definitely in this together. And if we make a few slides back down towards the bottom of the curve along the way, well…so be it.

con amor,

shan