Empathy, writing, and data, oh my

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My superpower is my ability to empathize with those around me. Although many of my colleagues experience sympathy, empathy is defined as the actual understanding and sharing of another person’s feelings (Google Dictionary). Sympathy, on the other hand, is defined as the feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune (Google Dictionary).

As a professional my ability to empathize allows me to succeed in all manner of interpersonal situations. For example when a customer calls ranting and raving, although I may be upset by what they are saying, I understand that in the broader picture they are hurting. While working in customer service at Lowe’s, I saw that my ability to rationalize the customer’s fury often diffused the situation.

Empathy

Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Jack Moreh

I am by nature a quiet person, which some people take as an invitation to walk all over me. What they don’t often anticipate is that my strength is in my silence. When people are allowed to express their frustration to a receptive ear, they are also more likely to relax when they see the situation being remedied.

The professional workforce depends on people who can communicate effectively and interpret the customers’ desires into action. My other superpower is my ability to incorporate the hard skills I’ve learned from both the political science department and the journalism department. Journalism taught me about competent communication while political science taught me to look for patterns within the world around me.

Although the classes I have taken are wildly different, the skills afforded to me by these classes are irreplaceable. For example, in political science I’ve learned about data interpretation but in journalism I’ve learned how to clearly and concisely communicate the results of my data in a way that makes sense to the general populace and not just other political scientists. Essentially each skillset builds on the other’s, giving me the opportunity to move between the world of academia and the real world with little issue.

In short I am marketable because of both my soft skills and my hard skills. My ability to interpret data and write with clarity connects me to the world of academia, but my ability to empathize with those around me grounds me in the reality. Lacking either skill, I would be far less marketable.

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Hats off to you, freelancers

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If I am being truly honest with myself I’ve seen myself in some pretty interesting jobs, war correspondent, photojournalist, political scientist, cop, even a chaplain in the United Methodist Church, but there has always been one line I will not cross: freelancer. Ever since I was a kid all I’ve wanted are reliable working hours. Time that was definitively work and time that was definitively not work.

Most journalists are probably rolling their eyes, saying “boy are you in the wrong line of business,” and they may be right. But I didn’t get into journalism to work myself into an early grave, to miss seeing my family, or to forget about all of my other interests. I got into journalism because I have a passion for truth, for justice and a dedication to telling the stories that are often overlooked.

Freelancer

Many thanks to freerangestock.com and Jack Moreh for this graphic

The chapter depicts freelance work like it is: hard but not impossible. The author gives tips and tricks while talking about the rules of the trade. The rules are sensible: be thorough, not sloppy; communicate; and be reliable. However, those are the keys to success in almost all trades. The idea that you can attract more clients with honey than vinegar is hardly reinventing the wheel.

While I’m probably being too critical about the basic rules, the author does give excellent advice about having a unique selling point. Everyone needs something that makes them stand out in the crowd. I have to thank all of my professors at Creighton for helping me develop my unique selling point over the course of my four years here. Not only have I learned how to market myself, I’ve also learned valuable skills like videography, research, data analysis, and concise writing, which make me a solid candidate for just about anything.

As a freelancer, I wouldn’t have the stability I need to thrive but that doesn’t mean there aren’t advantages for the right person. The ability to set their own hours and be their own boss are probably two of the most enticing selling points for freelancers. Although those most likely to succeed are probably drawn in more by the ability to actualize their deepest desires in the form of a business and to create without corporate obstruction, than the freedom to not work on Wednesdays.

Although the chapter mostly reaffirmed my thoughts on freelance work, I can’t say that I don’t admire the tenacity of people who do freelance. They put themselves on the line for their work, sacrificing everything to live their dreams, and for that they will always have my deepest respect.

Pitching Tripartisan

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Writing an elevator pitch for a company is undoubtedly a difficult experience. I believe in the practice of writing and employing elevator pitches; in fact as a part of my political science capstone I will have to deliver one on my project in front of all of the professors. The difference, however, is this is a project that I have been developing three years and doing the research on by hand.

While I love the idea of Tripartisan, only one student in our group has taken business related classes and thus learning to build a business in the span of 8 weeks is hard. Knowing the kind of research required or what should be included in a market segment is difficult when your training is sparse. Moreover plenty of people spend years developing their pitches and their products, doing trial runs and pivoting as needed. That means students with only a few class periods to prepare an elevator pitch is about as unprepared as they can be.

Business meeting

Image courtesy of freerangestock.com and Jack Moreh

I think the most difficult part was not being able to get feedback from our classmates before we received a final grade. I’ll be honest I hadn’t prepared as much as I’d have liked and I make no excuses for that, it was poor time management on my part. I was lucky in that Catherine was in class early and we used the time to pitch our speeches back and forth. What I think could have really helped the vast majority of students would have been some time to develop our pitches in our groups. Not to the point that we all had the same pitch, word for word; but so we could distill the core essence of our business plan and build from there. While rehearsing with Catherine, I listened to her speech and refined some of my talking points.

I also believe that having smaller groups would benefit a lot of people. I highly doubt many of us are going to be pitching an idea to 20 college students and their professor with any regularity. In fact, most of the pitches we saw (excluding those done at a competition) were done in front of a small group of venture capitalists. Sometimes the fact that the class – especially a big class – is made of people you know and respect makes it difficult to deliver a speech. You know exactly who is going to laugh when, who is checking their Facebook and who has their fingers and toes crossed praying they don’t screw up their speech. It’s comforting and yet oddly alienating; unlike the big competitions, we can’t walk away from this class and tell ourselves we’ll do better next time. We know we’re going to continue to see everyone; that our “sneaky journalist” mistakes are going to follow us into the next class.

The benefits of elevator pitches are amazing. They can land you jobs. They can score you points with your boss when investors show up unannounced at the doorstep. But they are terrifying. They can’t be under-practiced or over-practiced and the judges will hear your sales department voice a mile away. That’s what makes elevator pitches like Band-Aids, sometimes you just have to rip them off and focus on doing better next time.

Making entrepreneurship safer

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In his article Why the Lean Start Up Changes Everything, Steve Blank addresses the development of a new business model, in which agile design and iterative development build better businesses in a “safer” way. No business model is inherently safe, in fact the statistics on businesses that fail are staggering. Using the lean start up model, however, allows for adaptation in the face of adversity, for pivoting in the face of failure.

Contrary to the idea set forth by Blank that this is a radical shift in set up, for the millennial generation,  this business model is the typical set up. Maybe it is a generational difference, maybe not, but when I was reading about this model it felt like common sense. Of course you’d want to develop in stages with consistent customer feedback; of course you’d continue to adapt according to the business world’s changing needs.

Jump

Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com. Like the child jumping to kick the ball and score a goal in this photo, beginning a business is a big risk with a potentially large payoff.

Facebook, for example, is a example of how businesses should change as needed. Facebook began as the brainchild of several college students but as the website began to take off Mark Zuckerberg, along with his team, built algorithms to cater to an older population that may not be tech-oriented. This allowed generations of people who weren’t able to use MySpace due to a lack of coding skills to engage in social media.

Furthermore, as millennials, my generation remembers the great housing crisis of 2008 and the ensuing recession through the eyes of children. We saw adults in our lives lose their jobs and houses around us foreclose, something I think most people overlook when attempting to contextualize our behavior. I think this has led to a more gun-shy group of entrepreneurs who are hesitant to go all in without a safety net. This hypothesis may not seem to connect the variables but the majority of students I know worry about money and the stability of their future, which in turn makes them seek jobs and business opportunities that are likely to remain viable despite the changing economic landscape.

The lean start up model is essentially a business example of evolution. As older, less stable business models go extinct, newer models take their place resulting in a better product for the average consumer.

The professional necessity of social media

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Well folks, I survived. Not only did I complete an entire course on a subject I would rather avoid, I learned how to be a more effective consumer of social media. I learned how to build a professional profile for my platforms and how to market not only myself by my skills as a social media manager. I’ll admit there were moments where I felt aggravated but overall I enjoyed the class.

The social media strategy was simultaneously the most frustrating and rewarding part of the class. First I’d like to state that Tina Popson is an amazing woman and I thoroughly applaud her willingness to sit through 19 social media strategies.

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Photo courtesy of freerangstock.com and Jack Moreh

The strategy itself proved difficult because the Creighton Recent Alumni Association doesn’t have the same draw that a typical non-profit has. For example, the Humane Society has kittens and puppies to draw in their target audiences. The RAA, on the other hand, lacks the warm and fuzzy feeling that puppies and kittens bring to the table. My partner and I, therefore, made it our mission to make the messages delineated in our strategy give people the same comforting feelings.

Although difficult, by creating this strategy I have added one more marketable tool to my resume – which in today’s consistently fluctuating job market is never a bad thing. I learned that despite my aversion to the various social media platforms, my best bet is to be flexible and adaptable because my job’s requirements may change with a moments notice.

I am grateful for what this class has taught me because there is a virtual guarantee that I will use this technology in my future job. Similarly, I rediscovered a love of liking innocuous things on Facebook. I may not post often but I believe liking and retweeting things is a step in the right direction.

I found the most fascinating blog to be the public shaming blog, which centered on people who have been targeted by a negative viral movement. This blog assignment encompassed everything I have ever hated about social media – from the furious to the down right violent responses and more. More often than not social media feels like a trap being set and while I have several strategies to avoid the ire of the Internet, I am still hesitant to post anything vaguely controversial.

Simply put this class was a wealth of information and a veritable education for people like me who avoid the constant stream of social media. I am grateful for the skills I have learned and the many exciting projects we developed throughout the class.

Social media: the new public stockade

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I know that I’ve made my opinions on social media clear. I know that I haven’t always given it its due on this blog, but a large part of the reason I hate social media stems from public shaming. In Monica Lewinsky’s Ted Talk she compares the Internet to a public stockade, and she’s right. On the surface social media is a brilliant way to remain connected and for every horror story there are three or four good stories. Unfortunately, those good stories never seem to outshine the lack of compassion and inhumanity of cyber-bullying.

Maybe its because I’ve been told that some of my family members are going to hell, maybe its because I’ve been called the “damn liberal/hippy,” or maybe its because I have a bleeding heart but when I look at social media platforms all I see is a more accessible way to hurt people. I don’t think I was ever bullied, people said and did some hurtful things and I moved on with no lasting effects. But with social media the cruelty doesn’t end after school, it doesn’t end at night; it’s a steady stream of hatred that pours into every hour of every day until a new victim is found.

Megaphone Characters Show Attention Explaining Announce And Bull

Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Stuart Miles

While I am less inclined to sympathize with Justine Sacco than I am with John Higgins, Lewinsky and Michelle Ferrier, her stupidity shouldn’t warrant threats on her life. What she tweeted was senseless, racist, and cruel to those suffering with HIV and AIDS and I make no pretense to defend her. But was that tweet worth the total destruction of her life? Some might argue yes, others no. I stand somewhere in the middle. As a P.R. executive she should have known better and I do think firing her was appropriate but I’m reticent to say she deserved to have her life gobbled up by salacious magazines looking for a story.

Similarly Lewinsky, Ferrier and Higgins didn’t deserve to have their lives upended by the Internet’s insatiable need for malice. Humiliation and dehumanization are never the answer.

Imagine for a minute, if instead of making people regret their error by making them relive it, we saw fit to explain why what they did was hurtful. We teach children empathy for this reason, why can’t we use it to teach adults?

As mentioned earlier I avoid social media – it scares me. I’ve watched friends obsess over the latest Instagram post by Kim Kardashian and wondered if people even see her as human. What if we began to see everyone as human, as more than just a screen name? Would we change the way we talk to each other or even about each other? Or have we become so utterly desensitized to the idea of empathy that we now lack the ability to communicate with one another in more than just moral absolutes.

I don’t have the answers and I certainly can’t say I’ve never said a mean thing. I’ve had days where half the things that came out of my mouth were unkind. I just want to know why we stopped treating each other as fallible people and began expecting perfection.

 

Changing

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She’s changing the world with love and compassion. That sounds erroneously self-important doesn’t it? Don’t worry I think so too but I also think it’s the best way to describe who I want to be.

Today I could go on Facebook and see hundreds of posts filled with violence. There may be news reports of a school shooting, someone live-streaming a fight in the parking lot, or pictures of horrifically abused animals and children. And while I believe its critically important to talk about these issues, I think society has become utterly desensitized to the images, so much so that scrolling past them barely phases us.

In a world that swipes through pictures that should disturb us, I want to remain sensitive to these pictures because they show me what needs to be changed in the world. Pictures of suffering peoples should be intolerable to see because they reveal the dire circumstances that exist and need to be fixed. I think in order to change the world you have to remain affected by it.

peace-sign

Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Chance Agrella 

I don’t believe I can singlehandedly change the world; create world peace and end hunger. Those are lofty goals that are far beyond what one person can achieve. Instead I believe that remaining sensitive in a world that forces us to be hard is the first step to changing the status quo.

When I feel outraged by the President’s dangerous actions, no longer can I be indifferent; I am motivated to become a better activist. When I see a news report on a school shooting, I ask what can be done to prevent this unnecessary violence.

I can honestly say that some days I wish I could turn the sadness off. There are days when closing my eyes and saying lalalala as loud as I possibly can are appealing, but on those days it’s more important than ever to act lovingly and compassionately.

My philosophy class has been discussing the Dalai Lama’s Ethics of a New Millennium, in which his holiness describes why the world is in need of a spiritual revolution. He argues that we have become self absorbed, too focused on our own troubles to be in solidarity with others. His statement is not meant as a rebuke of society, especially western society, but rather as a wake up call; a call for our actions to be made with the good of others in mind.

I am not perfect nor would I ever claim to be. To follow the Dalai Lama’s indictment is to radically shift my thought process so that I am consistently thinking about others before myself, which is – and surely will continue to be – a long process. But if I have to contain myself within a sentence, she’s changing the world with love and compassion, is what I strive for it to be.