Choose your path, don’t let it choose you.

How many times do you hear about people just out of college taking a job that they aren’t really excited about, but justify it by saying, “I am just going to work here for a few years until I pay off my loans, then I’ll do what I really want to do?”

You know what happens most of the time? These people wake up and they are ten years older, and they are stuck in a career that they never wanted, and now they’re so entrenched they don’t see a way out. We all make compromises in our lives, giving up some of our own wealth and well being in exchange for doing some good for the world.

I think it’s important to ask ourselves every so often what it would be like to give up a little bit of money to go after that dream job; and it’s also important to ask the other question. What would happen if you took a more selfish approach? Would you be better off?

This article says that there are no right answers, but it’s important to think about.

A Nice Way to Start the Day

oatmeal

I have found that oatmeal is a great way to start the day. It provides plenty of fiber, good carbs and protein and it really fills me up. Oatmeal is also a great way to lower your cholesterol.

Oatmeal is easy and fast to make and you can add whatever you’d like to make it the perfect breakfast for you. Here’s how I made my oatmeal this morning…

Servings: 1

Ingredients
½ cup organic oats (you can find these in the bulk food section of your grocery store)
1 cup water (or milk if you’d prefer)
Pinch of salt
Honey
Cinnamon
Handful of chopped walnuts
Handful of raisins
2 fresh strawberries, thinly sliced
¼ banana, thinly sliced

Instructions
Bring the water and pinch of salt to a boil
Stir in the oats, turn heat to medium and cook for approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
Sprinkle with cinnamon, add honey, walnuts, raisins, strawberries and banana and mix well

Done and done. Enjoy this nice breakfast outside with a cup of coffee and enjoy the summer season!

Your 2009 Job Outlook: Not All is Lost

If you just graduated,  these words of advice from NSCS’ Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, John Crowley,  will be helpful.

Ok, I know.  We’ve all heard the same news.  Corporations are failing.  People are out of work with few prospects on the horizon.  Prices for goods and services are increasing, and we feel helpless in our attempts to stop the increases – mainly because they are out of our control.  Things are hard all around, and I’m sure many of you have been directly affected by some of the events of the past year.  It has been drilled into you that you needed to go to college to get a good job.  You’ve worked hard, studied even harder and saved money to earn your degree.  According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE, March 2009), hiring trends among recent college graduates has dropped 22% from last year, and the number of interns being hired has dropped 21%.  What is a young college graduate supposed to do?

First of all, stop.  Breathe.  Relax.  Be patient.  You’ve done everything right, and the time you’ve spent in school will truly pay you a lifetime of dividends.  When you started on your college path 4 years ago, no one could have possibly foreseen all of the events of the past 18 months. But keep this in mind:  As difficult as the recent past has been for so many people (maybe even your parents), you’re just at the beginning of your professional career, and you’ll survive in the long run.  I’ve been talking with recruiters about some of these trends over the past 8 months, and I’ve shared some of my observations below.

Believe it or not, there are places that are still hiring!  From some of my conversations with recruiters, I’ve learned that there are job opportunities within certain industries – i.e., energy companies, health care, some federal contractors and the federal government.  According to the NACE 2009 Job Outlook Survey, certain majors are still in large demand.  Among them are accounting, engineering (mechanical, electrical and computer), computer science, business and economics/finance.  If you happened to have studied one of these disciplines, you have a good chance of still finding an opportunity right now.  Even if you didn’t study one of the still in-demand majors, you can still find some meaningful opportunities out there.  How, you might ask, will I find those opportunities?  Keep reading!

You may have to be more creative in your job search, and you’ll want to consider different industries that need your skills.  For example, you may be an accounting major and had your heart set working for a Big 4 firm.  If you haven’t received an employment offer from where you expected to receive one, then look elsewhere.  The last time I checked, every organization, regardless of size, industry or type, has an accounting department.  If the job on Wall Street isn’t there, then look at Main Street.  There are even specialized temporary agencies for people with certain skills.  The more creative you can be, the broader you can make your search.  Sometimes, you’ll be able to perform more hands-on work with smaller companies, which will help you grow your skills level.

If you know you want to develop a professional career within a particular industry, look for ways to build that experience outside of employment.  Consider working as a volunteer or as a non-paid intern if you can’t find a paying opportunity.  Most organizations still have work that needs to get done, even if they can’t afford to pay you.  You will learn pertinent industry information through non-paid work.  Additionally, you may want to consider attending conferences/meetings within the industry’s professional associations.  Not only are they a great way to add to your knowledge base, they can serve as invaluable networking events, and most organizations offer student discounts on dues payments.

Another point that I want to stress is this:  Don’t leave your humility at the door.  Bear with me…I don’t mean to lecture you, but the one trait that can help you land on your feet is your adaptability.  Be a team player!  You may have a college degree, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help with a labor-intensive task that needs to get done.  I earned my undergraduate degree almost 20 years ago (yikes!), and I am a member of my organization’s Executive Team.  I have profit and loss responsibility, and I’m held accountable for my area’s overall performance.  But I still answer my own telephone…I don’t have an assistant…I draft my own correspondence and run the envelopes through the postage machine…heck, I even have to change the water bottle in our water cooler from time to time!  Earning your degree is a great accomplishment and will open doors.  Just try not to step on any toes as you walk through the doors, and you will earn your co-workers’ respect.  Try to pitch in where you can.  If you volunteer for projects that have to get done that no one necessarily wants to do, that speaks to your character more than you’ll ever imagine, and when folks look to hire or promote people, that type of initiative gets noticed.

I know what you’re up against, and it can feel like things will never turn around, but remember that there is help out there if you need it.  If you have student loans for example, you have 6 months before you have to start repayment.  Take that time now to develop your budget and map out your finances.  If you think you won’t be able to make your monthly payments, talk to your lender – you may be able to qualify for lower payments until you find steady employment.

By the way, Congratulations!  You have earned a major milestone at this point in your life, and you’re about to embark on an amazing professional career.  It’s not going to be easy, but then earning your degree wasn’t easy either.  You’ll get out of your job search only what you put into it.

-John Crowley

A Nice Refreshing Summer Salad

Keep an open mind when you read this recipe.

Last night, I was BBQ’ing and thought that watermelon would be a nice addition to the meal. Rather than simply slicing up the watermelon I had in the fridge, I thought a nice refreshing salad would be tastier and a lot more fun. Here’s what I did…it was both delicious and a nice way to celebrate the summer!

Number of Servings: 4

Ingredients:
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
1 avocado, cubed (search Google to find out how to do this properly)
¼ – ½ watermelon, cut into ½ inch cubes
Fresh basil, sliced thinly (search “chiffonade” in Google to find out how to do this)
Lemon, quartered
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Instructions:
Set up 4 small salad plates and do the following on each plate…
Place a layer of tomatoes on the bottom (approx 4-5 slices)
Sprinkle tomatoes with a dash of kosher salt
Place a layer of cucumber slices on top of the tomatoes
Place a pile of watermelon on top of the cucumber (in the center)
Sprinkle the chopped avocado throughout the dish
Spray entire dish with 1 lemon wedge
Drizzle with balsamic vinegar (approx 1 teaspoon)
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (approx 1 teaspoon)
Sprinkle the sliced basil on top
Hit with a pinch of salt
*you could probably add fresh mint for additional flavor

I used this as an appetizer to my BBQ meal which consisted of chicken breast marinated in Trader Joe’s BBQ sauce, a little crushed red pepper and Montreal grilled chicken seasoning; dry baked sweet potato and grilled corn on the cob.

Bon appetit!

How to stop procrastinating

It took me a long time to write this post because I kept putting it off (kidding).

Actually, it didn’t take me long to write this, once I decided that I wanted to. And I’m starting to see how that works in other areas of my life too.

As I’ve written about before, I’m a Toastmaster. One of the most basic things you need to do as a Toastmaster is complete a manual of speeches–  10 speeches, each focusing on a different feature (using body language, vocal variety, visual aids, etc).

I’ve been a member since October 2007 ; until April 2009, I had only given FOUR speeches. It wasn’t that I was afraid of giving speeches– it was just that I couldn’t think of a topic, or I couldn’t find time to do it. That’s what I told myself, anyway.

So in mid-May 2009, with one month left in the Toastmasters year (it ends June 30), I decided to finish my basic manual of Toastmasters speeches. If you’re counting, that means I had to do six speeches in two months. But my club only met twice a month, which meant I only had the chance to give four speeches.

So I did something that signaled how serious I was. I e-mailed the president of my club and my mentor. They told me about other clubs where I could speak. I signed up for speech opportunities before I was even quite sure WHAT I was going to speak about.

Pretty crazy, and pretty opposite of what I usually do (I’m a planner).

I’m on track to get those six speeches done by June 30. I’m giving my fourth on Friday (June 5) and then another on June 10 and another on June 24.

So what happened?

I decided to just do it. I didn’t fall back on my old excuses “I need time to prepare,” ” I don’t have a topic,” etc. I just signed up, and took the plunge.

The more I think about this, the more I realize that the key to getting stuff done is to do it. Don’t give yourself time to make excuses. More importantly, tell other people– because once they know, they’ll hold your feet to the fire.

What’s the one thing you’re procrastinating on, and why?

As A “Matter” of Fact…

Have you ever said to yourself, “Do I really matter?” or “Does anything I try to do everyday really matter?”….I think it is a pretty common thought. There is probably not a person in the world who doesn’t want to matter and, possibly more importantly, doesn’t want their life to matter. We are all human.

On April 30, I had a tremendous opportunity to reflect on what 15 years has meant to me in the evolution of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS).  My idea was to create a national, nonprofit honor society that would recognize academic achievement and make a difference for first- and second-year college students was launched as a little idea and a dream on April 30, 1994.  It was, and continues to be, something that really matters to me.

I am also a pretty big (OK gigantic) fan of Amy Grant.  I feel like our lives have evolved together over the years and while she has probably had a much greater impact on me as a person…I am pretty sure I have bought her a car or a house or something with all of the concerts, records, day trips the across country, shirts, etc I have purchased.  We help each other.  I hope one day we can sit down for coffee and I can tell her why her journey has been so meaningful for me.

Anyway, I was catching up on Twitter the other day and loved that @amygrant wrote this on April 30, 2009 (the 15th anniversary of the day I started NSCS): “I was thinking tonight that life is all of us doing what we do…as best we can. Trying to matter. Cheering each other on. everybody matters.”

Everybody matters.  It is such a simple mantra to live by and yet so easy to sometimes forget. Reading Amy’s tweet reminded me of how I have said before that we at NSCS are in the “mattering business”. We are creating opportunities, experiences and connections that help our members feel special, successful and proud. We remind them that they matter. In return, the work we do everyday to engage our members gives me and all of us at NSCS a purpose and a reason to matter.

The accomplishments of 15 years has been tremendous and it really has only been the beginning.  In the next 15 years, we have such an amazing opportunity to have an even bigger impact.  I just can’t wait to see what can happen when we continue finding bigger and better ways to support, care about and make a difference for our members.  It will be full of wonderful success if we do not forget, not even for a moment, that everybody matters.

Amy and I really do think a lot alike and on April 30 we were both reflecting on what it means to matter….doing what we do…and that makes me smile.

Smoke Detector Batteries and Passwords

I was on vacation a few weeks ago and wandered into an internet cafe to check my email.  As I opened up the browser it was very clear that the last person had not logged off because I was staring at somebody’s HSBC bank page.  I quickly hit the log off button and then typed in gmail.com.  When gmail opened it was already logged into someone’s account.  Geez!  I was wondering about the careless person who was sitting there before me. I could have started a whole new identity right then and there.  I did a quick clear private data and got on with my email.

Students are notorious for using computers anywhere and everywhere. I also think students, and people in general, can be careless and sometimes forget to sign out of personal pages and fully log off before walking away from a public computer.  I would take it one step further than logging off and also delete history and clear the cache before leaving the computer for the next person. In general, it is a good policy to follow since there will be people following you and they may be more than happy to dive into your personal business if you have easily left it there for them to find.

As I was on the plane back, I was reading an article about password protection.  Similar to public computer access, I guess, people are really careless about passwords.  Who knew?  There is a flourishing industry that tries to guess passwords and get access to people’s personal information.  I really haven’t given much thought to my passwords and honestly didn’t know that most people use “password” as their password.  Did you know that?  Or how about 123456 – that is another one that is very commonly used.  I can tell you if you are trying to guess my passwords…it is not one of those.

Most people are lazy when it comes to passwords (and logging out).  For the most part, people will use the same password for every account that requires one.  I guess there are even plenty of people who put passwords on a post-it note that is usually not very far away from their computer.  Would that be you? Convenience, and as little remembering as possible, is everything these days…right?

I guess all of this got me really thinking about how much access someone has if they can guess your password.  I counted this morning and realized I used a password to access eleven different accounts when I first arrived to the office.  I also have most of those “remembered” on my computer which could be very convenient if some random person knows the ultimate password to unlock my computer.  I am guilty of using, for the most part, one password for several sites.  I am rethinking my convenience logic.

It all made me wonder if passwords should be like smoke detector batteries and people should change them at least once year.  Smoke detector batteries and passwords…a change that could save your life.

It could be a new Hallmark card opportunity…happy change your password day.

What would be the day to pick?  New Year’s day seems like a good choice to me…new year, new passwords.  Or how about your birthday?  I guess, though, every year older may be a slight reminder that getting older may mean it is even harder to remember stuff, like new passwords! Regardless on when, I have had my current password(s) for probably more than 8 years for most things…and I guess that is simply unacceptable.

If you are searching for a few helpful password resources, you may want to check these sites out:

Ten most commonly used passwords

The 500 worst passwords of all time

How to choosing good passwords

Online password managers may be a good option too

What universal day would you pick to change your password?  If you want to edit my new year’s or birthday idea and you know my password…feel free to log-in and change the day.  Otherwise, you can leave a comment below.

Just remember: clear your history, completely sign out of personal accounts and fully log-off when using public computers…and change your passwords frequently.

Happy public computer web surfing!