The Ego And Ali

muhammad_ali_quoteMuhammad Ali is gone and now the world has a hole in it. When I was a child my mom and several other adults in  my neighborhood disliked this man who declared, “I am the greatest!” Back then, Nice Colored People never took on the “way things were” barefaced like Cassius Clay did. Then, he disrupted proper social order and changed his name to Muhammad Ali! Surely, he and that Rev. King in Georgia were going to get all of us in trouble in America. Women never talked back to their fathers and husbands either. That was sin in the skin! Until my early teens, I parroted my elders’ 1950’s ideas about race, color and gender as if they were my own. But they were not my own.

You see, being an introspective, wallflower of a girl, I believed that only men had “egos” which had to be dutifully tended like orchids by all the women in their lives–wives, sisters, girlfriends or whatever you were to the man. Oh, yes. Women were a “whatever”. Standing above and apart, I, the Princess Morally Puritan Purest of all, certainly did not have this “ego” that if in any way was insulted, would ruin me for life or something like in “Gremlins”.

Then, one day, click! I looked at the boxer; I listened to the boxer and I began to look closely at the so-called ancient wisdom about who I could never be or do. It seemed there was always some reason I could not succeed based on something I was born with:my skin was too dark; my hair was too kinky; my torso was too short; my feet were too flat; on and on.Then, to top it all off, I was born female. Doomed! Doomed forever to live chained to a man whose ego I had to stoke like a fireman on a steam engine.

Thanks to Mohammad Ali I re-examined all my hand-me-down beliefs and got abundantly clear about exactly what I did believe about race, gender roles, and most of all about my Self. Mirror, mirror on the wall; who has one of the biggest egoes of all? It was an ugly truth that began my journey of soul growth.

I do not agree with all Muhammad Ali’s ideas, but I certainly thank him for helping many of us de-mythologize our beliefs and de-colonize our minds. May you rest in peace, my brother. Salaam.


Cutting Gym Class With The 4-Eyed Girl

Mine had a little skirt!

Mine had a little skirt!

Yeah! It’s time to take on the one subject in school I hated even more than math: gym. Otherwise known as P.E. or Physical Education or Phys-ed, I never liked it and opted out ASAP as millions of red-blooded American girls do even today.

Now, I know that for some students sweat class was the only class they got a decent grade in. When I was a student in Norfolk, VA the grown folk used to say that ladies never sweat, they “glistened”. Sweating was to be avoided at all costs. No matter. I was the “4-eyed girl” who never got the knack  of having 2 periods a month; that is, until menopause. I just suffered in my huge, voluminous navy regulation gym suit while my hair turned back to nappy nature from its Watkins pressing oil perfection. Were it not for the bi-weekly switch-off with the boys for the gym (co-ed classes were unheard of) when the girls studied “Personal and Community Health”, I would have utterly flunked the course. Gym class reinforced my image as a clumsy bookworm, but, coupled with biology class, health class acquainted me with  the rudiments of nutrition and the systems of the human body immediately involved in what my gym teacher called exercise. As a survivor, I am deliriously happy to tell you about the four kernels of learning from gym class:

  • The “one size fits all” approach does not benefit every student because of temperament, personality, and natural ability. The beating our self-image took in gym class continues to be a nightmare loop for some of us.  We need “memory cleansing” from the time we most needed encouragement and support but often got derision and shame.
  • Every student, not just the natural athletes, should be encouraged to discover their personal way of making fitness a lifetime habit. It would be grand if schools and neighborhood gyms (that gave out membership coupons) cooperated, enabling the addition of more personal sports like Pilates, Yoga, spinning, and hiking to the curriculum.
  • The heavy emphasis on team sports that required learning certain kinds of physical skills discouraged “body confidence” so I grew up believing I was a klutz and became “movement-averse”. I came to understand very late in life that play is not just for kids and how important honoring the body–which is built to move–is.
  • We are not disembodied minds; we live in and experience life through bodies. It took reading, “Our Bodies, Our Selves” to straighten out my attitude. Best of all, I found out that appreciating and accepting my own body promotes self-acceptance in other areas in life.
  • I dream of a day when a prescription for physical movement written by a cardiologist, endocrinologist or GP could be filled at a gym of choice and paid for through health insurance the same way we now buy medicine.

Hocus-Pocus! The Re-Careering, Re-Branding, And Remaking-The-Self Ceildah

Shape-shifting. As I took a step back from a recent conversation about re-careering, it occurred to me that shape shifting is what it was all about. Called by any other name, whether re-branding, remaking the self, re-imaging or re-careering it is an attempt to make some kind of change in an area of life and some changes are more challenging than others. Taking a position slightly higher than the one previously held or a taking a position which is a lateral move is not a difficult dance; just a two-step or a dos-y-dos at best.

Moving to a different position within the same career field or into an associated field (uses the same skill sets differently ) is a more energetic swing about. Ex: education to social work in learning pathologies. A little added education might complete this kind of move: a few steps facing backwards, then facing forward again, going in a similar direction.

The last kind of move–from one field into an entirely different field–is the hardest move of all to pull off. This demands a shape shift and that is in the realm of myth and magic! We have discussed in the earliest pages of this blog that potential employers do not like to deal with career virgins or career changers. They like the tried and true–preferring that some other slob works the bugs out before the new employee lands in their companies. As I understand from a seminar I recently attended, among the things potential employers are not too thrilled about doing are taking a gamble that the new employee “egg” they are agreeing to sit on is a creature with wings (flight risk. Will be gone at first good opportunity) or that they will have to take the time to train a new sorcerer (brand-spanking new to the field at bottom of learning curve ).

The reality of a career shape shift is that it will take time. It means gaining both the skills and the  3-5 years of experience many jobs state in their descriptions as required. Until these essential element are in place, the new career might not be directly assessable. As for job-hunting, forget about the job boards completely and lean hard upon networking into an unconventional entry portal. You actually have to have an advocate (an ally in networkers’ terms) who is willing to use an influential relationship with a powerful friend on your behalf.

That said, it is time to go on to the necessity of plotting a course of making small steps toward the new career. Making these small steps takes time. We very well are talking about a few years here so it will also require some hard-headed planning. At times, it might even look rather cold-blooded. Nice. The new shape is reptilian–a flying dragon perhaps.  How does the gypsy woman know? She is actually doing it! For the not-so-young anymore this is something that has to be dealt with on the front end with some real soul-searching and reality checking. It means finding creative ways to have a positive cash flow for an extended period. It means always being on the lookout for opportunities to make a leap ahead in the process. It means keeping watch over the judicious use of energy as well with frequent restoration points so that the process will not cause physical and emotional burn out.

Hey! This is not only a dance, career changing is alchemy!

A blessed Lenten Season from Victoree

St. Brighid cross

St. Brighid cross

Greetings of spring! Many thanks to the readers who sent wishes for good health. As the flu flies over my house, strength has returned and with it a  fresh perspective on the entire subject of working. This season,we hope to kick around in these pages more ideas about image, self promotion, and most of all the “E” word–entrepreneurship.

In addition,looking forward to the spring equinox means continuing to plant idea seed in the soil of intention and clearing off the winter kill in the gardens of mind. I am reading Eckhart Tolle‘s “A New Earth” these days, taking up again a promise made to myself to read one book per month. We all recognize that some resolutions made at New Year‘s are often abandoned by March. With not an ounce of shame, I did not vow to loose weight yet again this year, but to be positive about my appearance and give the “undesirable parts” some love. How about we occasionally remind each other to keep the promises we made to ourselves early this year? Okay. There is a “second chance”: Chinese new year. 2013 is a “snake” year and the element is still water, so happy year of the water snake.

have a heart

have a heart

For my Lenten sacrifice I have decided to turn down my favorite candy–chocolate. Guess what I got for a Valentine?  Yup. You guessed it and I put it in the freezer to show I mean business. I read some folk have decided to actually fast from Facebook! Wow. Now, that is real courage. Whatever sacrifice you decide to do or whatever new promise you decide to make this Lent, may your whole heart–with or without nuts– be in it.


It Happened in the 9th Grade – High School and Career Beginnings

My High School Year Book

Let me tell you a story to help you understand how I came to the conclusion that some of the problem college students have with career choices began with the 9th grade. This YouTube video from Careeralism suggests that it began even earlier…in kindergarten!

The scene opens at elementary school in the late 50’s to the early 60’s. Nobody in school seemed too concerned about what kind of work the girl-who stared-out-of- the-window- all-the-time wanted to do in life after all the requisite cute questions were asked (what do you want to be when you grow up?). It gets old. It just never was the stuff of interest to adults after age 9 or 10, especially if you were a girl. In such cases, in my neighborhood, it was assumed that you would be either a nurse, a secretary or a teacher. These were all respectable,   “good colored jobs” for black women with blue-collar parents back then. It was assumed that unless you” married up”–married into wealth–that you would continue to work. The only thing that drew any interest was my naturally quiet  nature. My mother promised my second grade teacher that she would help school “bring me out of my shell”.

Fast forward into Junior High School, otherwise called middle school  in some systems (It’s not too hard, just wind the reel-to-reel ahead with a finger). There were no career days or introductions to kinds of work outside the “normal” ones presented in library books. We took the required number of course hours of “exploratory electives” to try different things like wood shop, home economics and art class. Again, my guidance counselors seemed only interested in my introverted personality and how it was a minus for me apparently. I remembered being studied a lot.

I do also remember being told that academic grades began to “count” in the 9th grade (freshman High School in some places). I passed into senior High School with no other real goal except to place high in my High School’s graduating class to prove I was worth the breath I sucked in on earth. It was the thing to do for low-self esteemed, nerdy, “smart girls”.  Maybe the thinking back then was that serious discussion about careers direction in the 9th grade was too early.

We all know the truth now, don’t we? Grades DO begin to count in the 9th grade. This is only my opinion, but I believe the 9th grade is not too early for schools to begin comparing notes with parents and purposeful observance of students, making note of their native strengths with  “life after schooling” in mind. In all the confusion and political wrangling about the purpose of universal education for k-12, I think this should be a component of the basis of guidance counseling in schools.

Somewhere in all that testing schools did–some kind of weird state-national competition–was hidden something that would benefit the student:knowledge about the self; knowledge about strengths; accurate, regular feedback beginning at 9th grade which would have been  useful for making informed,  intelligent career choices. As it is, many of us stumble  into our life work by accident and the luck of the draw. Too many of us are following the choices originally made by toddle-logic (logic of toddlers trying to coax adoring coos out of parents and relations).

This is one of the national tragedies of American education and a horrifying waste of  the nation’s greatest national resource–the potential of its youth.

Preparing For the Interview:Before The Paint and Powder

The Secretary of State has bad days too.

It says, “I do things at the last minute. I don’t plan, I just live…”

Determining what is appropriate for interview makeup brings out a broad stripe of ambiguity about women. The general consensus: Take it easy. Not too much, but don’t come in bare faced either (that’s country!) Recruiters’ blogs and advice articles I have read  quote research  that gives a thumbs up for a lady to wear natural toned makeup applied with a light hand for that touch of professional sophistication for the interview. It says, “I respect myself. I’m together”. Remember our discussion about the “precious moments” before an applicant emerges from the car and how those moments may not be so private? Another bad thing  the corporate parking lot  lookout could catch an applicant doing in the car is applying makeup. It has the tang of disorganization and non-readiness. It says, “I do things at the last minute. I don’t plan, I just live…”

In the single numbered days of my life in a new state, I did the second worst thing: apply makeup in the ladies’ room just before the interview.

Attention to health, rest and  nutrition matters…

After a restless night , I stumbled sleep deprived, and raccoon-eyed into an interview at a temporary service agency in the state my family had just moved to having no professional contacts, no social ties and not a clue about looking for work at the tail end of the 20th century.

After the interview, the image I caught in the ladies’ room mirror appalled me. How on earth had I let myself get into this state? and…how is this outdated shade of lipstick still in my purse? Sure enough, the impression I left with the hiring associate at that agency was not a positive one and relations with that outfit went unhappily ever after. Fixing the personal self-esteem damage that experience did to my morale  took scrubbing, bleach and therapy.

The fact that my old address was still on my woefully dated  resume was bad enough, but that is a discussion for another day.  The spotlight (or that horrible light in the bathroom) is on the fact that  I was caught plain faced and tired looking when I should have been well rested, energetic, and prepared. I should have rescheduled that interview. Attention to health, rest and  nutrition matters even before the first stroke of foundation goes on and no amount of make up can cover its lack .

Preparing For The Interview: At The Sign Of The Broken Arches

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm ...

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm stiletto heels. Category:Shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“…Put on yo’ high-heeled sneakers…”

I almost fell off my chair when I heard an executive coach in her presentation tell the audience, “the interview begins in the parking lot”.


Yeah. Some companies actually post lookouts at the window overlooking the parking lot to observe  applicants’ moments before emerging from their cars! What do they see?

  • Applicant doing touch ups on  makeup and hair in the rear view mirror
  • Applicant searching for resumes and portfolios materials
  • Applicant changing clothes in the car
  • Applicant changing shoes in the car

I take a few cleansing breaths and pray briefly too, but my big thing is about changing shoes in the car.

With little else other than the manilla resume folder in my briefcase, it just seems convenient to put my “interview shoes” in there too. I drive to the interview in my comfortable “driving shoes”, pack them in an up-scale store shopping bag on the floor of the passenger side and slip on my pristine “interview shoes” before I get out of the car. Then, I hope I will not have to do a 100 meter hallway trot or the master stairs.

comfortable shoes with professional flair

An interview in a Temple of Commerce style building with a bank of steps at the front entrance and no elevator to the higher floors means I end up doing a one-woman presentation of “A Christmas Carol” or “Cinderella” after the ball. By the time I get to the office at the top of the stairs I’ll be hobbling like Tiny Tim and puffing like Molly-the-steam engine. My makeup has half floated away and sweating has already turned my creole hair  to its natural state on the back of my head. My only hope is a ladies’ room not requiring to ask for the key at the front desk. It is not polite to begin a personal urban renewal project once past the threshold of the business office.

You see, my feet came into the world with low arches, and working retail jobs over the years rewarded me for that by granting me flat feet. Shoe fitters can spot me immediately by my gait screaming so loudly about the pain in my hips and knees that makes me look (and move) much older than I really am. I’m not ready for The Scooter Store. I just have a problem finding good-looking, comfortable interview shoes. The  thin soles and high heels on women’s dress shoes are torture to stand or walk in. Plus, fashion is pushing pointed toes at us again. Shoes, accessories and make up are some of the cheapest ways to update a look, so “iron-maidens” for the feet being the current style again is not good news. Ugly orthopedic shoes are never good to wear to an interview.

The going literature about interview footwear for women is conservative-colored, closed-toe-and-heel pumps. That means, my “Sunday” shoes–the cute ones I put on to be worn for a couple of hours and the first thing kicked off at the door upon returning home from worship services. Arch supports in them feel horrible. My heels are almost non-existent, so heel grips have to go in them too. Usually, I opt for a low heeled sling-back (not the A-one choice according to interview stylists) and hope that I will basically be sitting down for most of the interview.

some crazy shoes:

Preparing For The Interview: Indy-Goth-Grunge-Punk Style

rock and roll musician, George Michael

Ready to rock, but at the interview, not.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. True enough. When it comes to hair, makeup and physical adornments at interviews, there seems to be a theme running through much of the literature on the shelves and online: WATCH IT. There is a definite prejudice towards contemporary styled, neat hair, and  clean, hairless faces. For many of us that translates into these kinds of admonitions:

Keep the haircut conservative.

Keep the pink coiffed, bed head, and emo-black hair for the weekend–and don’t have any pictures of it on Facebook. Some ethnic hairstyles in the eyes of some executives still denote a rebellious attitude, so it pays to understand the corporate culture before showing up in dreads or twists. The grunge-y stubble that looks so great on George Michael might not be a good idea at the interview. Beards, van-dykes and other facial hair styles should be neatly trimmed. Women should not wear beards. Generally, arts industry professionals have much more leeway to express personal style in comparison with, say, bankers or Wall Street stock traders.

Keep jewelry near the face conservative.

Many interview advice comments I have heard from recruiters are along the line of small, non-pendulous earrings for women and no earrings for men. A woman with more than one piercing in her ears should decide which two to wear a small stud in. Generally, ear jewelry should not make noise or be a distraction. Believe it or not, large hoop earrings still have a negative connotation.

Hands should look neat and cared for; conservatively adorned.

Clean and clear. A man’s hands should be clean with neatly trimmed nails–all of them. Having a longer nail on the pinky finger used to mean a certain social status, but it does not translate well at the interview today. Likewise, a woman’s hands should be clean with neatly trimmed nails. Trade the robin’s egg blues and safety orange for closer to natural tones for the interview. For men and women, dial down the finger bling. That means Diamond Jim should wear one or two rings on each hand instead of the usual fistful. The same goes for Sophisticated Lady. One or two rings will do. Neither should be sporting noisy wrist wear.

I put on the single strand of pearls (good fakes that do not show wear) and ear studs with my suit. My artsy stone pendants  and talismans stay at home when interviewing for the corporate office. Never a sell-out in any sense, it is merely one more classic move in “the game” of getting the job.

Preparing For the Interview: The Sweet Smell of Excess?

Shalimar fragrance and Prince Machabelli bottles

My mother’s perfume

I love perfume. So did my mom. It must be genetic.

As a child, my merchant seaman father would come home with gifts of fragrance from around the world and I used to love rummaging through mom’s dressing table testing for treasures of scent. There in that alchemist’s collection of  mysterious bottles  lived the captured souls of romance  with names like “My Sin”, “Tabu” and my favorite, “Shalimar“. To this day whenever I can find it, I enjoy daubing on a little of the classic Avon fragrances. Perfume is the most affordable of luxuries and the essence of womanliness.

Most times, job loss  means shedding things to save money, so there is a sad, gradual loss or downgrade of items like hairdresser appointments, salon shampoo, new clothes, new shoes,  makeup, and finally perfume. If I am rendering the research correctly, the human sense of smell is the most powerfully evocative of  all the senses. One whiff of warm granny apples with cinnamon and suddenly there is a desire to run up the front steps of the “old house” two at a time. Caught downwind from “Old Spice“, tears well up as it conjures warm memories because that was “his” scent.

On an emotional level, I get it. One never knows what dreams or nightmares will be called forth in an interviewer by an applicant’s wearing a certain scent. Know, however, that scent is part of  image strategy. Beware. The choice of scent must be contemporary, tasteful, complementary to business wear/hairstyles and light. Wearing some scents that were popular a generation ago actually say, “frumpy and old-timer-ish”;carries peppermints in the bottom of her hand bag. Scent could give your age away in that case.

a 21st century perfume

Dangerous drink, intoxicating perfume?

Then again, interviews  held in tiny, ventless inner  rooms dictate that neither recruiter nor applicant wear highly scented cosmetic products to avoid triggering allergies or the gag reflex. I have stopped thinking that the often given advice against wearing my incense woods-heavy signature  fragrance in interviews as another shameful loss of freedom in the USA and started thinking of it as a courtesy; like graciously not sharing  information too intimate for that venue. It might just be best to keep this emotionally loaded potion bottled up on the dresser until the ink on the new-hire papers is dry.

Gleanings on wearing scent in an interview or at work

Preparing For The Interview

A bride greets the queen

Ready to meet the queen

In thinking about the reasoning behind preparing well for the interview, I have to pass by part of the tale of Cinderella…

If you remember, Cinderella lived in a household headed by her widowed stepmother and shared the place with two step sisters. The king and queen of the realm where this little family lived had a prince who stubbornly remained unmarried which exasperated his royal parents. Invitations went out to all the eligible ladies in the kingdom to a ball where the prince would find and select a suitable bride (the royal couple hoped!). When the invitations arrived at Cinderella’s house, all the ladies began preparing for the ball.

In another narrative from the Bible, a certain king exiled his queen when she embarrassed him by refusing to appear at a party one day. To cure his equally embarrassing lack of a queen, this king decided to have eligible ladies brought to the palace for a contest to choose from them a new queen. The contestants were prepared to meet the king with beauty treatments given over an entire year.

Again, a prospective bride will starve herself into a smaller size, take up residence in the spa and spend thousands to make sure she looks her best on her wedding day.

Queen Esther

One year to prepare for one night

How important is it and how serious a matter is it to consciously prepare for an interview? I am not saying it compares to the extreme conditions of contests to be a king’s bride or a fairy tale princess or even a wedding day, but preparing for the interview is no less a matter of deliberate preparation. Many people miss this point and show up at one of the most important events in life in almost laughable conditions. So, the first rule of the “corporate mating ritual”, or, the interview is, PREPARE.