Friday Frustrations: Branding, Thoughtfulness, Diversity

No one is obligated to sacrifice for your brand. Everything's transactional. If you're not expecting people to pay with currency, you're expecting their attention and time. No one should be more invested in your professional walk (or hustle, you dastardly entrepreneurs) than you are...because no one stands to benefit more than you.

Offering to pay people a pittance (without any other transfer of value) to perform labor you're unwilling or unable to is an issue of character. Expecting people to do the heavy lifting of mining your professional personality (company ethos) and abilities to further your agenda without any reciprocation is repulsive. To expect others to draw on their hard-earned experience, insight and limited time to solely advance your priorities is to admit that lack of consideration.

Don't know what options are available to you? Start at Google and hit the virtual ground runnin'. Do a search for all the Meetup groups that convene within 50 miles of your zip code. Go on LinkedIn and take a peek at the profiles of head honchos and everyday folks that you admire - reproduce their "sound" in your own voice. List the brands you feel loyal to and consider why you're drawn to what they elicit in you. Take a look at groups in your industry and figure out the role you want to play.

...then play it.

Tidbits: Freelancer's Union / Gary Vaynerchuk / Society of Grownups 

Sure, ideas aren't everything, but blind execution's sloppy...and costly. When we aren't reading articles about Millennials or women and girls in tech, we're looking over ones that aim to whip all of us into a do...do...doing frenzy by diminishing the value of ideas. It's rarely mentioned how a variety of experiences and vantage points that come from diverse teams will expose more complex needs...that will result in a need for more thoughtful communities.

I'll admit that being able to act is key; I'll add that it's only possible to consistently do well if you've taken time to reflect on your options and resources.

Mine your more pensive employees by hosting think tanks over lunch. Invite direct managers to chat with HR about their team dynamic so they can be aware of what's missing. Offer your wonderful people opportunities to draw on the fullness of their experience (their volunteerism, soft skills they might not have been hired for) and foster an environment of thoughtful people striving to do great things.

Sometimes opportunities to innovate are missed because they're disguised as thoughtful consideration.

Tidbits: Levi Baer Consulting / "It's All in the Cards: Work Lessons in Spades"

Hiring a diverse team is not a Herculean task (so it shouldn't feel like one). When I recruited and managed teams, I took note of individual character, communication style and ability...and whether the combination fell in line with the company's identity, needs and goals. I don't suggest that people hire to create a family dynamic - bring members into the fold as if we're in the trenches. 

In any industry, we're up against competitors, the weak links in our own company culture, and mediocrity on an individual and company-wide level. That all hands on deck approach to working requires both vocal extroverts and discerning introverts, it requires Relationship Managers with the understanding that parenthood grants tempered by the bright eyes and blunt hunger of the interns.

These days, I hear predominately- and all-white or male companies sheepishly admit the lack of diversity while they wring their hands and set 1% increase goals. It's akin to indiscriminately reading literature of the Western canon and creating a Goodreads queue of amazing works by women and people of color without ever reading them. We spend time on the things we prioritize...no matter what the goal, how you act will betray those priorities.

When you learn to value ability and insight more than preserving unchecked biases and set standards that aren't driven by comfort and the need for familiarity, you will have a more diverse team.

Tidbit: Kristy Tillman: "The Problem with 'Diversity and Inclusion' Roles" 

A Change of Heart: How I Challenge Impostor Syndrome

Reader, if you're anything like me, you've doubted your skills. You've sat in meetings withholding insight and scribbling notes in the margins of your notepad. If you happen to be a woman or person of color or a Millennial like me, you've also come up against the doubts of others on a cultural level - and you might've even been instructed (like I was) to expect to work harder for a portion of your just due.

I've experienced crippling self-doubt so intense that for years I turned down amazing opportunities, neglected to advocate for myself or negotiate salaries and pay raises. I've also stayed in unhealthy workplace environments much longer than I should've because I didn't think that my propensities had value or that I had the ability to flourish on my own.

Now that I've tipped my hand, dear reader, let's get started. We have much to discuss!

Handle yourself with care. Impostor syndrome is a heavy burden. I think about the times I sabotaged myself by avoiding valuable interactions, by effectively countering people's intriguing offers with reasons why I wasn't the person they should consider, and yes - even by using the dismal results as proof of my lack of qualification. I found myself in that dark wood known as self-doubt...and I needed to find a better, kinder way to live.

I began by stating my self-defeatist thoughts out loud: "I'm afraid they'll find out that...""I don't have this qualification, so...""Do they know that..." - and then dared myself to finish the sentences...and give myself credit for the abilities and insight that I had. 

"I'm afraid they'll find out that... I'm the only person at the table without an advanced degree...but I have great insight as a member of the culture / demographic we're discussing."

"I don't have this qualification, so...I'm afraid they'll disregard my contribution...thank goodness I'm thoughtful and disciplined with great writing skills so my well-packaged insight will lay a solid foundation."

"Do they know that...I feel vulnerable and frightened...if they do, imagine how floored they'll be when I push through and still bring a valuable contribution to the table."

Handle yourself with care...by knowing that you can always add more to your sentence. It doesn't have to end with doubt.

Rayshauna's Personal Practice: Create an Excel sheet with the following columns: "What Impostor syndrome says", "What skill / ability it relates to", "What's in my arsenal that I can use to 'continue the sentence'?", "One actionable step to build confidence in this area." I suggest assessments every two weeks.

 

(Re)make your bones. The first, difficult step had been taken - now, I needed to build momentum...by forging a new connection to fear. Yes, fear.

IS forces us to associate negative circumstances with feeling out of our depth (or when we anticipate being out of our depth). I wanted to attack my intellectual IS head on, so I challenged myself (in an inoculative way) to sit in the front rows of academic spaces. It didn't matter if only professors and department heads were up front at the Wednesday afternoon lectures at Harvard's Barker Center (as long as there were no reserved seats), or if only scholars and authors were seated at the table during talks at the Massachusetts Historical Society. I made sure I was familiar with the rules of a space so I could respect them...and then I pushed myself to occupy a prominent seat. I refused to allow myself to shrink or hide. Others would join me up front and thank me for breaking the ice.

I became familiar with that knot in my stomach when I sat up front. I came to appreciate that shaky question I eeeeked out (after many silent rehearsals) during Q&A. Those responses to IS triggers soon morphed into hands raised with ease during introductions. They became heartfelt letters and emails to lecturers after presentations that blossomed into interviews. They became chats with some of the most well-known names in academic circles...and I became a person that showed up despite fear - a person that dared and pushed myself to occupy space with trepidation in tow. 

Rayshauna's Personal Practice: Continuing the first tip, check in with yourself every couple weeks. Download the apps of fantastic schools and check out the calendars of cultural institutions near you so you can RSVP for public events. If you're a photographer, offer to snap photos and provide them to the host. If you blog, offer to write up a guest post for the institution. Show up...and continue showing up. Remind yourself that while you may encounter the arrogant sort, it's not only important, but valuable to be earnest.

 

Contribute your verse. When I became intentional about kindness and grace as ways to combat IS, I realized that I didn't have to amass information so that I'd be able to speak from a place of authority. Many people ask me how they can be an expert at what they do (be it public speaking, networking, or writing) - and I always encourage them to speak from their vantage point instead of attempting to speak from a place of authority. No one has a monopoly on understanding...and it's a very quick trip from IS to arrogance that stems from a desperate, overcompensating need to combat it.

A friend of mine is a rapture-inducing, eloquent speaker that can opine his mouth off - and even he is bested by someone that can speak "into / to" a topic in a more precise way. I speak on IS as a Black Millennial woman from the south side of Chicago. There are both cultural and personal reasons behind the insecurities in my past, but when I came to understand the full weight of my insight as a person where those four identities meet...I also began to recognize my unparalleled value in a work culture that desperately needs it. 

Rayshauna's Personal Practice: Take note of the compliments you receive. Are you the person that makes people feel welcome when they enter a space? Are you very good at creating and maintaining meaningful connections? Can you sell ice cream to Chicagoans in winter...and make them pay premium prices? Start paying attention to the moments when people respond warmly and thank you for what you bring to the table. When people are playing the cards in their hand well, it commands the attention of the other players. 

Add a column to the right of your "actionable steps" to account for these kind words. Add another to the right of that one so you can share how that makes you feel. Say these out loud.

 

Be a linchpin. I moved to Cambridge from Chicago in 2009. I didn't know a soul and didn't have a ready-made pool of connections since I didn't have any religious affiliation and hadn't moved east for school. These last six years have been chock-full of lessons, hardship and wonderful moments. When people ask me when I chose to move, I can quickly conjure up the memory - 

I sat on the floor of my apartment in a northern Illinois suburb and chose Boston - because I knew how the transit system worked. I had popped around the country and had a gig at Emerson the year before, but hadn't put down roots. I came to Cambridge the next year desperate for ballast. I wanted to master myself. 

So, I volunteeredlearned to play my hand well, and created standards so I knew when it was time to leave. I also made a habit of supporting brilliant people speaking and creating from their vantage points.  I would rush headlong into freeing myself from impostor syndrome. And while that old self-doubt comes around from time to time, I can afford myself grace, remind myself that doing good work doesn't require that I know everything, and that I can encourage others along the way.

Rayshauna's Personal Practice: Internalize the positive feedback that others are offering you. Relish the opportunities you have to speak from your vantage point and assist others along the way. Remember that you've always been at the intersection of your identity and abilities. 

In short, keep continuing your sentence.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you find your way (and stay) out of the wood. :)

Shakespeare and Company: Culture ABCs (N - Z)

I hope you enjoyed the first half of Culture ABCs. Let's get back to it!

Night-tripping Fairy (elves that switched well-behaved children for ill-mannered ones, who were often called "changelings", from King Henry IV): Deadlines get away from us. We're sometimes required to defer to our supervisors' whims when we'd rather stay the course. It happens. That said, there's a difference between being caught in the throes of a project and a workplace culture that doesn't prioritize timely operations. Adjusting projects so they fall within the parameters of what a supervisor is looking for is not the same as an environment that doesn't respect or listen to its members. The short of it is...changes in the fundamental ways teams and companies function don't happen because of any otherworldly creatures that perform a nighttime switcheroo -

...they are always a direct result of the priorities we set, behaviors we reward, and dynamic we tolerate.

Of General Assault (common to all men, from Hamlet): I am a Black woman and a Millennial. Surely, you've stumbled across articles about how to manage people of my generation, ways my long-vacant gendered seat at the table can be warmed, and how workplaces can become good stewards of the cultural understanding I bring to said table.

When Millennials are written about (usually by non-Gen Yers), I often get whiffs of disdain and condescension. Women? The articles tend to focus on pay equity, parental leave and confidence. Race? Often male-centered with a bent toward industries outside my purview. While we need to make diversity (on a number of fronts) a high priority (and take real steps toward its realization), it's very important that we keep in mind that treating people as humans deserving of empathy, appreciation, and encouragement will always have us land very close to our goal. These facets of my identity will compel certain spaces to adapt - but they are also (and have always been) inextricably bound up in my humanity.

When you interview (and hire) me, you won't be getting fragments of an employee - you'll be introducing a full human being with all my insights into your culture...and inviting me to contribute. Trust me, reader - this is a good place to start.

Pennyworths (small quantities [of sleep], from Romeo and Juliet): I get it. You love what you do - and if you're like me in the least, you crunch numbers while you brush your teeth, you're designing new blog templates as you gaze into the side of your cereal box, you plug your calendar full of networking events and Periscope your latest insight over lunch...but don't forget to care for yourself. 

I made my bones in an industry that had me up at 6am with coworkers in China, Skyping with Western Europe and South America with my morning coffee, checking in with Chicagoans, Denverites and Californians until lunch, and keeping QQ in business by touching base with China again before bed. 

I understanding the need to work hard - but let's begin to work in ways that not only pay the bills but keep us alive. Life's not always in the doing, but the being. Be well.

Quick-mettle (mentally sharp, from Julius Caesar): I'm an ideas person. I love to strategize and I also have the good fortune of being doggedly determined as I execute. I believe that powerful teams are comprised of people that are curious, hungry, and...supported.

Yes, supported. When I'm on the job hunt, I take note of salary, office digs and other perks. As an innovator and chronicler of information, I also recognize my need to work in spaces where new ideas are welcome. Whether we're talking about your personal best on the basketball court or logistics at work, there is always room for improvement.

Hold onto your innovators by facilitating a culture where they can thrive. Let them do what they do best - pour into the culture with sharp points of view and valuable feedback. 

Reverb no hollowness (make no noise, as a hollow vessel does when it is struck, from King Lear): In my last gig, I oversaw eight academic programs across the country while based in Massachusetts. That huge swath of country spanned 1200 miles and they all needed the same quality of service while being in drastically different conditions when I got them. There were differences between my program in rural Indiana and my fledgling startup in Wichita; the no-holds-barred recruitment effort I launched on St. Louis was never needed in Denver. When I lent a hand with teammates' programs, I found that out what a difference a mere 45 minutes could make in the culture of a place.

(I'm looking at you, Washington D.C.)

While it was quite the thrill, it was not always wonderful. Now, failure is part of everything that we do, life is riddled with it - but it's possible to accept its inevitability without making it a a mindset. Even when things are not working the way you'd hope, never be found not working. You might fail, but you are not a failure. We are not hollow vessels. Put that resourcefulness to good use.

Sweet friends (the two lips, Merchant of Venice): I make a point to let people know that I value their time, respect their hustle and support their venture.  If I could spend my day tweeting about companies / hustles I admire, writing "thank you" emails, and endorsing people on LinkedIn, I would. I truly believe that people respond to genuine warmth and appreciation. 

While our cultural understandings (and behaviors) around work have undergone a shift, many of us still work in places where our effort goes unnoticed, our attention to detail dismissed, and our insight untapped.

Imagine what amazing work we could do if we cultivated spaces that interpret effort and attention as extensions of character, determination an indicator of temerity and investment, and insight like a renewable resource. 

Truncheon (a general's baton, from Hamlet): I've had my fair share of pioneers and lackluster leaders. When it came time for me to manage a team, I knew that I needed to play my position masterfully. 

As a manager, it was my responsibility to make sure all the "i"s were dotted and "t"s crossed - but not necessarily by doing it myself. I needed to create and maintain teams of dedicated, loyal, capable people - and this meant three things:

...letting it be known that my team had skills and insights that were welcome and would be put to good use; maintaining a working dynamic that they were proud to be part of; and that by doing both of those things, creating a banner they were happy to rally around and wielding a truncheon they trusted me to use wisely.

Undergoing stomach (enduring spirit, from The Tempest): When in the moment, my career path felt very disjointed. I hopped from city to city, freelancing with organizations, meeting with founders, pitching ideas and the like.

Some of my most glorious career moments were a result of my needing to hustle. I once launched a recruitment onslaught in St. Louis. I networked at my boarding gate at Boston Logan. I buddied up with the folks at my terminal in O'Hare and convinced the airline employees to let me give an announcement for the people boarding the plane to St. Louis Lambert. When I got my my hotel, I tipped the cleaning staff so they'd place my marketing materials (hand sanitizers) in each bathroom so people from all over the country would hear about my company and *just have*  to google our name.

Eventually, I'd make connections that changed the course of my career - because temerity, tenacity, and daring are trump cards. 

Vaunt-currier (announcer or herald, from King Lear): Reader, if I had to distill the beauty of Innovators into a single quality, it'd be our ability to see beyond current conditions. Vision, sight-beyond-sight, as I lovingly refer to it, has put me in positions to shift the course of my career, enrich the quality of others', and help create more savvy work environments. 

Remember my eight programs across the country?  Well, I named my territory Rayshaunaland. I began to think of my swath of country as  if it were a kingdom being primed for expansion (yes, I had Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan in mind - read my article of games). I created a mapping system for every active / approved host family, pending applicant, and inquiry. When I had a better understanding of where my communities were, I was able to adjust strategic efforts and grow them. During one of my trips to St. Louis, I was in a position to pitch a partnership with an area school because I already knew what I was able to do for their community.

I was intimately familiar with my landscape...and in a position for expansion.

Wondrous sensible (very deeply felt, from The Merchant of Venice): It's not accident that I've worked for five universities, nine multinational education companies, and planted my volunteerism firmly in social justice soil. My belief system and work ethic are extensions of my character - and whether we're talking about the value of diversity or the need for multiculturalism, my intention to contribute to something meaningful applies. 

I'll admit, sometimes the day-to-day nature of our positions will require that our worldview take a back seat, but I've found that people who are set on fire to create a better society make for great engineers, people that see the poetry in everyday life make for wonderful instructors, and on the whole, people that wake up in the morning with a heart for what they do are living the dream.

Xanthippe (mentioned in Taming of the Shrew): While Xanthippe wasn't a character in this Shakespearean play, she's still important to highlight. 

Hustle requires that we're always growing and adapting. In Reverb no hollowness, I said that failure is inevitable - that doesn't mean it's preferable. The Xanthippe of my industry nagged me about how I'd sell the idea of international education in a homogeneous rural community. Xanthippe nagged at me over the dinner table while I devised ways to recruit stellar team members...only to manage them from a thousand miles away. Xanthippe planted seeds of doubt every step of the way - which only made me more determined to deliver.

Xanthippe will nag - she will gripe, groan, and be irksome. It's up to you to see that she's rarely right.

Your mind hold (if you don't change your mind, from Julius Caesar): I mentioned my ardent love for this play in part one. Shakespeare was in fine form when he crafted the banter about cobblers and menders of souls, when he conjured the tempest onto the page and set the stage for a doomed Caesar.

Caesar, despite the plot, despite the powerful seat that eventually led to his demise, was undone by his refusal (not inability) to change his mind.

The working world is not filled with soothsayers and Calpurnias, but they are among us. The question has always been (and remains to this day): will you lend them your ear?

Zenith (highest point, from The Tempest): Reader, it's been a pleasure having you with me. You stayed the course as I put my literature education to use, and for that, I am grateful.

 I wish prosperity for you in whatever positive form that may take. I wish you confidence with a measure of humility, daring with a dollop of wisdom, and influence with a healthy dose of responsibility.

I also wish that you never reach a zenith. I wish that you find roles and company cultures that contribute to a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. I hope that you never become comfortable with being stagnant and that you never get to a point where you think there's nowhere else to go. Thanks for reading. :)

**Many thanks to Colin Welch and David & Ben Crystal for their sites.

Sitting with the Hard Truths: Gazing Into the Abyss...and Moving On

At my core, I am a thinker. In the past, I sat until I was ready. I ruminated until I was satisfied. I mulled things over until they resembled something sensical.

That's a surefire way to get (and stay) stuck.

I always thought that taking time to consider all sides was a mark of wisdom, but as I got older, I came to realize that progress will sometimes require building as you go along. So, the other day, I thought about the aspects of my life that make me feel stuck...and began the necessary work of liberating myself by accepting some hard truths.

You don't have to make any "end all, be all" decisions right now. The Idealist Romantic in me likes to think that all things are charged with meaning, that ducks need to be ever in that holy row. I'm also someone that will watch Netflix for hours on end (for no reason other than to relax), have an entire portion of my budget for french fries (because #yum), and can live in the moment (see: quote Her Highness Beyonce) alongside the best of 'em.

I was making my life unnecessarily more difficult. Time spent enjoying "free" moments can also be time well spent. One you've had your respite, get back to the chess game that is life.

You can either make money off your skills directly...or have someone else make money and manifest their vision using them. I've got some skills in spades. I love to write. I enjoy fiddling with ideas. I find pleasure beyond words in designing programs and tweaking broken modus operandi. I've worked for other people and organizations for my entire life (and made a habit out of chomping at the bit to do so) - but my skills are my own.

While it's not great to be arrogant or haughty, recognizing that your value follows you wherever you go is key. Make a mental change. Stop defining yourself by which organizations you're affiliated with and identify the personal capital in your wallet.

There's only one first place ribbon. I'm an idealist, but I'm also wildly competitive. Blame it on the only child gene. I'm all about self-mastery and grasping at excellence. Whether you're someone that loves having a pace car or someone that loves to be better than they were the day before (like me), we don't aim for perfection because it's easy -

...we aim for it because it's worth it, and because there's an unparalleled beauty in successful execution and completion. Turn that stale air into steam.

There is no such thing as security. I left school early. I've been laid off. I've eulogized a parent. Whether you're working to attain tenure or disrupting and pivoting your way to the top, remember: ain't nothing sacred...or beyond the grasp of failure.

Whether you're on top of the world or struggling on the underside of it, it will spin madly on. Do what you can, when you can, in the best way you know how.

If you don't know, learn. If you know how, make yourself valuable by teaching.

Money is created and given value...but it is valuable nonetheless. Deal.Lots of aspects of our human condition are constructed - race, gender roles, language - it's unwise to go about life as if things that are constructed don't matter.

Act as if the quality of your life depends on it...because it does.

It's like some sage person once declared: "Money doesn't buy happiness...but let me find out for myself!"

Someone is literally making money selling "nothing". Don't you ever think you lack value. The philosopher in me loves the idea of a capitalistic country selling Nothing, but the recovering self-doubter couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that sometimes a lack of substance can be a meaningful commodity.

The better side of this coin tells us that it's all about how you spin things.

Somewhere, there is a mediocre person running something. One up him. Every time I open up a magazine or scroll through a blog, I find articles about how women can excel in the workplace, how Millennials can convince our predecessors that we're worth a damn, how Black folks can be successful without being abrasive and breeding resentment in the workplace.

I live in the space where those identities converge and have the insight, awareness, and ability to help design an inclusive workplace and critique old models by drawing on language and understanding gathered from lived experience in the world.

Old ways won't open new doors. Meet your new coworker, moi.

What feels effortless to you may be Herculean for someone else. If you can make money or increase your quality of life by sharing...do it. I'm introverted, but when I'm "on", I'm "on". I'm comfortable speaking in public, love finding creative ways to convey information, and am set on fire to do amazing things.

Not everyone is skilled in the same way, and we all have our own wheelhouses. I've loved toying with language and dreaming up stories since I was a child. I never matured (or was cultured) out of my sense of wonder - and those propensities pay off on a daily basis. The very things that feel like second nature to me can be insurmountable to someone else.

Pull a Prometheus and share that fire. Don't worry - that eagle is long gone.

I want amazing things...and if I work hard, I'll come to deserve them.In 1914, W.E.B. Du Bois sent a letter to his daughter Yolanda (then 13 years old), who was studying in England. I couldn't imagine the weight of expectations that come along with being the daughter of Du Bois, but if I know one thing, it's this:

People tend to rise in direct relationship to the care provided them, the opportunities afforded them, and the measure of hope they maintain in service of making a better life for themselves.

This applies to me, too. I can dare to dream, I can envision something new for myself...and if I put in the hard work, come to deserve it. I'm daring myself to do better, dream bigger, and put the foundation under my lofty goals as I go along.

It's All in the Cards: Work Lessons in Spades

I grew up in a family that loves their card and board games. My childhood is filled with hilarious Scattergories blunders, riveting deliberation over Mind Trapprompts, and crudely-drawn Pictionary answers that would make for great Monty Python sketches, but I learned early on in life that a good game of Spadescan't be matched. Chock full of lessons about strategy, teamwork, and self-mastery, teaching the whippersnappers in your families to be Spades players is worth it.

So, pull up a chair and let's chat about developing a fine game.

Set the rules. No two Spades games are alike. Lay the groundwork for a good game by making sure that all players are aware of the rules. Don't play with the red deuces (two of hearts / diamonds)? Take 'em out. How many books are taken from a team if they renege? Hash out a mutually agreed upon number and collect accordingly. Does the first hand bid itself (the books that are taken are won without the teams declaring them beforehand)? Make sure those tidbits are communicated before the first card hits the table...and make sure everyone agrees.

Nothing should be assumed. Make sure that terms are hashed out and agreed upon by everyone at the table. You'll likely save your peace of mind and your fingers. It's impossible to gauge success if you're unfamiliar with the goal and markers that signify success.

Pandemic and Axis and Allies are other great games for strengthening one's collaborative and strategic muscles.

Get in working order. The cards have been shuffled, cut, and are about to be dealt. You'll soon have thirteen opportunities in your hand - and you'll need to work with your partner's thirteen to defeat twenty-six unseen rivals acting under your opponents' direction. I'm a planner, so I rearrange my cards as they're dealt by alternating suit (red, black, red, black) in ascending order. When it comes time to take a book or take a fall (so my partner can win the hand), I can easily get to the one I need to play without telegraphing the rest of what I'm working with. Because I've integrated cards as they were dealt, I developed an ability to discern the advantages of a card within the context of my entire hand and can temper my playing style so it's in line with what I'm working with.

No one should be more familiar with your arsenal than you. All might be fair in love and war, but sloppiness and an inability to strategize are unacceptable at the table.

1010! is a great Android app for developing strategic skills.

Make your mark. A standard deck will have two Jokers. If your table decided to play with them, you'll need to differentiate between two amazing cards. Moreover, knowing when to use the big Joker's firepower without wasting it will be a skill that will always serve you. I've been playing for almost twenty years - and I still can't help but grin when I happen to get both of them.

Here's the kicker: a good player knows how to use a Joker aptly; a great player knows how to wield a numbered diamond to get the job done. While Jokers are great, if they are the only spades in your hand, be well aware of the degree of firepower at your disposal...and what can happen if you use a hatchet to do a surgeon's job.

There is a difference between talents at your disposal and your skills with the most firepower - learn to identify the difference and apply your abilities in ways that will serve you well.

Crossy Road and Ticket to Ride (an Android app and board game) are great for figuring out when (and where) to strike.

Tipping and talking points. Even though you have a partner, only you can play your cards. As with all things in life, it's important to maintain the integrity of your hand. One of the most strictly-enforced rules is about "talking across the table". Explicitly conveying information about your hand to others at the table (usually one's partner) will make you persona non grata and for good reason - it's interpreted as either the missteps of a novice or the conniving habit of an untrustworthy player.

While working with others is inevitable (and energizing for some personalities), the integrity of your hand (and your ability to play it) rests squarely on your shoulders. The best teams are comprised of members that are individually skilled and strong, and that workplace harmony is a language all its own. Learn to speak your own language so you can converse well with others.

Monument Valley is another great Android app for developing a great solo game.

Flying blind. Snags in the plan are inevitable, but there are valuable lessons to be picked up during times of struggle. You may have a problem of Herculean proportions to solve, but how you overcome is as important as the solution itself. If you're 100 points behind in a game of Spades, you and your partner can choose to go "Blind 6" before cards are dealt in hopes of earning 120 points. You won't know what you're being dealt, but learning to adapt strategies and work with others (who are also flying blind) will hone your skills and make for great stories.

I once took a position and requested a workload that included programs in need of the most TLC - in hopes of rehabilitating them and coming out all the more impressive in the wash. Become familiar with tension, but do not make a home out of disadvantage. Being on good terms with tension will keep you from being paralyzed by fear and refusing to make a home of disadvantage will keep you from developing an underdog narrative.

One of the highest virtues associated with having persevered is having a great story once you come out the other side.

Shadows Over Camelot is fantastic for learning to work with others toward a goal in spite of formidable foes you'll meet along the way.

Nada, rien, nyet. You can earn a bonus 100 points for successfully completing a round without making one book - but it is a decision that must be made wisely. Going nil will mean tailoring your playing style to complement that of your partner while also playing against your opponents. Some of my most thrilling hands have been played with a number of aces and spades...ultimately pulled off without taking a single book.

You will not always be the big boss making all the decisions. At some point in your career, some aspect of your role will need to be subject to a marketing team, your CEO's vision, or time (or technological) constraints during everyday goingson. Rolling with the punches is an important ability to cultivate, but no one should ever find you without the temerity to play within those constraints well. Remember: the game might not be of your design, but your cards will always be your own.

Uno and Chutes and Ladders are great games for learning how to appreciate minimalism and roll with the punches.

Closed books. Once a book (a total of four cards from all players) is closed, it should not be opened. Some tables even charge a book to reopen the last round (if they allow it at all). Much like I mentioned in Tipping and talking points, table etiquette expects each player to pay attention and keep up with the pace of the game...and as with all things in life, timing is everything.

If you're not paying attention, you can play out of turn (betraying your team's strategy by showing one or both opponents what you intended to play), or play off suit (causing you to renege and cost your team no fewer than three books) - both of which are criminal offenses.

Games that will up your timing and attention game include Ready Steady Bangand Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Reneging. If you polled serious Spades players, they'd tell you that reneging is the most horrendous of all the blunders. It is a mark of some of the worst table behavior - lack of attention, lack of familiarity with the cards in one's hand, and a reason to give your opponents three valuable books. They'd also tell you that they've committed that sin at some point in their playing career.

Failure is inevitable, mon amie. You will misspell someone's name, you will miss a deadline and find yourself churning out an apologetic email throwing yourself on the recipient's mercy at some point in your career. It's alright. It happens to the best of us.

Pay the price. Regroup. Finish the game.

There is no shame in being down, only staying there and building a narrative around it. It's useless at the table and useless at life.

Don't Touch the Spikes and Episode - Choose Your Story are great Android apps for learning to avoid the mistakes you made before...and building a narrative of your own making.

Kids, life is for the living. Get out there - immerse yourself in the thick of things and build a career on the skills and narrative of your choosing. Many thanks to my family for making this only child more disciplined, reflective and exacting through games.

Shakespeare and Company: Culture ABCs (A - M)

Language is a beautiful thing, friends. Whether it's changed due to technology, migration, or the slow march of time, we've been bequeathed some wonderful tools. Company cultures need to be engineered and maintained, like any other facet of society - and what better words to use than some from our dear friend William?

Let's see what he might have to say about the ways we work.

Augurers (priests who interpreted omens, from Julius Caesar): This year, Millennials will comprise the majority of the United States' workforce. While I'm happy to be in that number, we lovely Gen Y-ers will need to remember the importance of identifying people that can see around the corner - and that said persons might be over 35. Just as there is value in innovation and people that manipulate new technologies with the ease that only early adoption can provide...

...there is equal value in being acquainted with the ages from which yours sprung. Archaic language is the seed that blossoms into the spoken tongue of the day - and we Millennials could stand to learn a lot from helping to develop a lingua franca.

Behoveful (necessary, from Romeo and Juliet): I like to go into battle with a plan - a plan B in case the first falls through, and another in the event that it rains and my first two plans are illegible because the ink ran. It's not the most efficient use of time, even if it does help assuage fears. Readers, we don't need everything including the kitchen sink to do well - but a healthy heap of discernment will always point us in the right direction.

Success will sometimes hinge on choosing the lesser of two inconveniences; don't make a home in the space between your rock and hard place - your kitchen sink won't fit.

Coystrill (knave or base fellow, from Twelfth Night): Much as is the case with augurers, being able to identify the dead weight is key. The trappings of leadership we watch unfold on Mad Men are the vestiges of another generation, and (hopefully) will go gently into whichever good night is farthest away. My leadership is meticulous, conceptual and culturally inclusive. I speak when I have something valuable to say during meetings and am more likely to spend more time getting at the root of a problem than nipping at the branches.

Being the loudest person at the table is not indicative of great insight, and is more in line with a clanging cymbal than a rallying cry. Going forward, Millennial leaders will need to do a better job of this.

Drops of Sorrow (tears, from Macbeth): Anything worth doing is worth doing well. In my experience, that means having a sincere heart for what I do. Just like the healthy heap of discernment, being invested in your product / company culture will engender a tenor of authenticity...and resonate with your members and followers. So, take to the oars, reader - and shed those tears. Like Isak Dinesen said, "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea."

There are a few companies that convey their authenticity, but Buffer impresses me the most.

Elysium (paradise [Illyria], from Twelfth Night): I grew up in the Black church. Common Gospel themes (borne out of liberation theology) always drew on the notion of the hereafter - going from "glory to glory", and were peppered with one-liners about "how we got over" and "making a way out of no way". Even if this is not your theological tradition, these are amazing nuggets to have on your mind. where are you going? How does your lifestyle line up with your ultimate destination? What does paradise look like in your company?

Is it the result of a communal effort, a place where everyone draws on the best parts of their identities and skill sets...or is it a place that only few people (the right people, you might argue) are allowed? Remember, it's never too late to adjust....and make your view of paradise more inclusive and welcoming.

Feather-bed (marriage, from The Merchant of Venice): We Millennials love our freedom to work remotely, we chomp at the bit for perks, and love partnerships (be they professional, familial, or romantic) that feel good and require minimal vulnerability and maintenance.

That's not how healthy relationships work.

A solid marriage (from what I've gleaned from happy Midwestern friends that got hitched fresh out of undergrad) is the fruit of hard work, intention, and a willingness to be vulnerable. The people we make our partners must be vetted - they must also be invested in. One-sided, selfish unions with parties that refuse to invest in the common pot or ones that don't value what you bring to the table are not viable partners at all.

Groundings (the less critical part of the audience who stood in the pit, from Hamlet): In her book, Daring GreatlyBrene Brown warns us about people that criticize from the cheap seats...and encourages us to not pay them any mind. Whether I was 14 and choosing a high school two hours from home, 20 and flying to LA for a job with $24 in my pocket, or 28 and leaving a job that crushed my soul without a paying gig lined up, I was always met with chatter from the cheap seats.

Shut them up by shutting them out. They don't contribute to your vision and are not invested in your glory.

Hurlyburly (the noise and confusion of battle, Macbeth): Much like the groundings you'll encounter, be mindful of the sound of clashing swords and cries of the wounded and defeated on the battlefield...but do not stop pressing forward. Some of my most meaningful workplace victories happened when I allowed one blow to inform how I respond to another. Oh, my program in Indianapolis is struggling? What commonalities does it share with my schools in St. Louis, Denver and Wichita and how I can implement relevant parts of those strategies to gain ground here?

The cacophony that is your industry shouldn't be discounted, but it also shouldn't discount you. You are a fearsome, worthy opponent...and (when coupled with solid partners and a healthy heap of discernment) a force to be reckoned with.

Ides (the 15th of March, from Julius Caesar): Julius Caesar is my favorite Shakespearean play. I was Mark Antony in high school and routinely watch clips of Marlon Brando's 1951 performance. While I adore the tete-a-tete about cobblers being menders of soles in the opening and the adroit Marlon uses to manipulate the crowd, I always pay attention to how the Knowers are treated in any text. How is Calpurnia treated when she tells about her nightmare? How is the soothsayer's warning rebuffed (and himself rebuked) when he implores Caesar to beware the ides of March?

It's a common literary device for a reason, folks.

The Knowers might not look the way we expect them to; they might be blind soothsayers or women (*gasp*)! But know this: there are some that have sight beyond sight and it would do us a great good to lend them our ears. Let your vision live after you; don't let your good be interred in your bones.

Jaunce (trudging about, from Romeo and Juliet): Weary people can be exorcised of their hope; they can also thrive in a creative, encouraging environment. You can have an amazing idea that will solve a critical problem, provide your employees with all the snacks they can eat and all the K-cups they can use, but if you can't help engender a lil' levity, many will be disheartened and look elsewhere.

While the idea that hard work is an inherent good in our culture, let's be honest with ourselves and one another. I've found that working for a meaningful reason is better than just going through the day to day - and even after a 60 hour week, I'll remain invested if I'm in the trenches with solid people that don't just care about what they do...but why.

Key-cold (cold as a metal key, from Richard III): If you're lucky, the solutions you need will be wrapped up with a bow and hand-delivered. If we're talking about what's likely to happen, you'll be presented with a set of solutions, some of which will initially rub you the wrong way.

Because I'm a planner, I've refused to implement solutions because they were not delivered or wrapped in ways that struck me as sufficient and worthy to use. My thought process in the past didn't allow me to consider the usefulness of a thing without being critical of its source and appearance. The fact remains:

A cold key, however unpleasant to the touch, still opens doors.

Long-ingraffed (longstanding, from King Lear): Firmly planted in the bedrock of my worldview is that idea that we inherit, rework, and pass down cultures. It's a beautiful thing, being beneficiary, societal engineer, and ancestor - and an empowering thing, too.

You'll encounter many people that will swear up and down that institutions (and the people that comprise them) flourish when they continue tradition, but I want you to challenge yourself by considering the following:

1. Is the unexamined life (or professional plan) worth living / executing?

2. Is there a chance that I'd feel differently about this project / plan if I looked like someone that isn't at my table?

3. Am I committed to a good job...or simply committed to the status quo?

Music-from-the-spheres (according to Pythagoras' Musica Universalis, the universe consisted of eight hollow spheres, each producing a note that, when combined, created a perfect harmony inaudible to the human ear, from Twelfth Night): Even though he got the astronomy wrong (bless his heart), Pythagoras had a beautiful idea.

I have spent the last decade and a half battling Impostor Syndrome. For those of you who've never wrestled with that terrible angel, allow me to share some of the internal dialogue:

"Who am I to do this? No one there looks like me. I can't code. Why did they call me? I can't speak for anybody but myself (and who wants to hear that). They don't know I had a disastrous high school career. No, they must mean someone else. Maybe I should shorten my name on my resume and cut out all the racial and gender stuff. They don't want someone that majored in two humanities. Who's gonna give me funding? They have no idea how insecure I feel."

That internal dialogue has made me run out the clock on internships, higher salaries, job offers, and an academic role I would kick butt for today. The truth is this:

The world is not fair. There are people out there that will see me and think I could never speak from a place of authority on anything because I'm Black, and a woman, and under 30. They don't need me to bolster their ignorance with negative self-talk.

Just like those spheres, I too have a tone, and I fully intend to take my place in the heavens and emit it.

Part Two (N-Z)

**Many thanks to Colin Welch and David & Ben Crystal for their sites.

The Company You Keep: A Supreme Court of Influencers

Learning to live (and live well) is a never-ending lesson. In a world full of chatter, people with enough aplomb to be insightful and enough panache to get the message across are priceless. Here are the folks that have my ear...and should have yours as well.

Gary Vaynerchuk (@GaryVee): Gary V is a firecracker that digs deep into each video he records, stunning and intriguing us every time. His explosive charisma challenges us to be honest about our entrepreneurial intentions and goals. If you want to learn to market yourself or are looking for ways to sharpen that hustle in a brilliantly human way, check out his work. Books and videos galore - they won't disappoint. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook em, y'all.

Superpowers: Energy, Ravenous Hunger for the Hustle

Tim Ferriss (@TFerriss): Tim Ferriss is such an inspiration. His curiosity and eagerness to sift through the nuts and bolts of self-improvement are such a light in a culture that is obsessed with what we can get...instead of becoming the most efficient, highest possible version of ourselves. His Four Hour series (Chef,BodyWorkweek) have gone on to resonate with scores of people around the world and for good reason. Time is of the essence. Get on board.

Superpowers: Discipline, Worldly Je Ne Sais Quoi

Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog): Seth Godin is unparalleled in his measured, simple approach for human connection. His daily email newsletters are just the thing that we all need to peruse over our morning coffee. Whether a list of valuable links or a few sentences on starting your first endeavor, his thoughts are rich and rife with the equal portions of grace, care, and minimalism that our culture (of dogma, shoddy work, and grandeur) so desperately needs.

Superpowers: Minimalism that Packs a Wallop, Gentle but Precious Insight

Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell): I just love Malcolm Gladwell's body of work. In BlinkThe Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw, he invites us to rethink the ways we've been taught to encounter the world. In Outliers and David and Goliath, he challenges us to pivot our understanding of power and success. His skilled forays into the "how"s that undergird our society are worth their weight in...well, any precious commodity one could think of.

Superpower: Investigative Rigor

Brene Brown (@BreneBrown): Brene Brown is something of a wonder. Her TED talk on shame touched so many people. Our cultural conversation has a dire need for the nuance that grace, forgiveness, and shame affords us. A world that values the head at the expense of the heart (and productivity of people over their inherent value) will never realize its true potential. Which is why we need Brene Brown, bless our hearts.

Superpowers: Vulnerability, Courage in the Face of Vicious Self-Doubt

Susan Cain (@SusanCain): If the meek are truly destined to inherit the earth, Susan Cain will be our patron saint. I'm an INFJ (emphasis on the J) in a culture that conflates volume with value, and innovative insight with attention-seeking behavior. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, she sheds light on the needs and unique contributions of the Innies of the world. With the finesse of a skilled surgeon, she separates introversion from shyness, misanthropy, and social awkwardness. We are a quiet bunch, but we choose to be so because we'd knock the world out of its orbit with our gravity if we spoke all the time.

Superpowers: Gravitas, The Introvert's Sight Beyond Sight

Elon James White (@ElonJames): Whether Elon is dissecting societal trends as CEO of This Week in Blackness, cracking us all up with hilarious stories about his family, or creating hashtags that fly in the face of street harassment, he is a fantastic person giving us what we need. Our country has a rich cultural inheritance that includes societal woes that need unpacking. The Elons are quick to use their two cents to help us on our way.

Superpowers: Humor, Ally (Social Justice), Subaltern Knowledge

Black Girls Talking (@BlkGirlsTalking): This one's a bit of a cheat. Black Girls Talking is actually a group of four amazing Black women that have one hell of a podcast. Hitting on topics ranging from the -isms and -phobias of our day to cultural appropriation, they level a cultural critique fit for the history books. Alesia, Fatima, Aurelia and Ramou have a collection of interviews that are worth the read. Hear that sound? That's the sound of Black Girls Talking.

Superpowers: Subaltern Knowledge, Shade-Throwing, Intersectionality

So, there y'all have it. Run over to your local library branch, start following on Twitter, subscribe to those podcasts...and broaden your worldview so you can bulk up that hustle.

(Black Millennial Wo)men Working: Gender, Age and Race in the Workplace - Part One

There are lessons to be learned about gender, age and race in the workplace…and scores more about where they meet. Whether talking politics during lunch or talking shop in a team meeting, cookie cutter ideas about professionalism and a job well done do not shield us from the goings-on of larger society – they illuminate them. So, pull up a chair while I share what I've observed as Black woman millennial in the workplace. Here are some of the things I’d tell my 18 year old self.

A Rose by Any Other Name: A name like Rayshauna Capri Gray packs a wallop. People will stumble over syllables that are fluid to you, adding a ‘w’ or a ‘d’ pulled out of the ether and driving you up a wall in the process. You’re worried that your name won’t be taken at face value – that it’s timestamped, raced and gendered in ways that are beyond your control. You’ve been advised to go by Ray, Shaun, or R.C. Gray, to strip your resume of valuable but "telling" experience in hopes of slipping unnoticed into an interview pile…

…but know this: any organization that whets its appetite with the notion of an ungendered and raceless resume is one you’ll loathe to work for anyway. Intolerance for variety (and the ignorance it telegraphs by thinking a workplace functions better without it) is one of the glaring hallmarks of a poisonous work culture. If a supervisor can't "handle" your name, how will they manage the points of view and experiences tethered to the way you appear and how you navigate the world as a result? Even if your heavily edited, blancmange resume managed to slip in undetected, you’ll still show up bodied the way you are, with a bundle of ideas and concerns (and ways of conveying them) that speak to your experience in the world.

It’s been said that "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king". Well, in an increasingly multicultural workplace that will require that many minds come to the table with a variety of experiences and points of view, roses with complexly configured names are just as sweet...and very necessary.

To Infinity and Beyond: Working to get free from the grip of Impostor Syndrome is one of the most liberating gifts you will ever give yourself. Like me, you might’ve been told that your ability must far exceed expectations in order to get a percentage of your due respect. Women are told this, Black folks drill this into our children’s minds, young people encounter this routinely in a country that thinks unpaid internships are Nobel prizes. My personal bar has always been no less than 150% percent of whatever markers my employer had in place because I was taught to account for others’ “soft bigotry of low expectations”.

Now, you might wonder why low expectations are oppressive.

Low expectations are not privileges; they are oppressive because they are the linchpin of a narrative that devalues your potential contributions and assumes your lack of ability…all under the guise of giving you leeway. Now, I’m a tough nut to crack in the workplace – I’m no stranger to a 60 hour workweek, to performing three jobs and daring anyone to attempt to take the reins from me, but know this, 18 year old Rayshauna –

Drive yourself, but do so because hard work strengthens mettle and tests resolve. Work with intention and grit because it builds character and makes you dynamic. Be wise and exacting because while vision and temerity are qualities that are hard to come by in youth, once attained, they’ve got quite the ROI.

Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face…and don’t operate from a place of privation, a place of fear or self-loathing to prove others wrong. The only person you have to honor and prove right is yourself – and in doing that as a young Black woman, you will often prove most of the world wrong. The poison of –isms and –phobias will be their hosts’ own undoing and do not require your help.

You are well within your rights by occupying your seat at the table. The richness of the lesson rests in remaining worthy of it.

Jill of All Trades, Mistress of Some: Albert Einstein said it best: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” My love of learning (paired with a healthy dose of discernment) has always served me well. Whether I decided topick up and make a life across the country or leave a job to pursue something healthier, I always had my experience to draw on because I made cultivating my own mind a priority.

Since moving to New England to make my bones, I’ve run organizations, planned and hosted events, and picked up tidbits from knowledgeable people I met along the way - outside of work. I’m known in my personal circles as a person that makes magic happen. I’m the one that wanted to learn Icelandic, so I began watching movies and listening to music to develop an ear (I also went down to the Icelandic embassy during a trip to DC). I wanted to ask my favorite authors and scholars questions, so I wrote emails asking for fifteen minutes to chat during their office hours (while not a student).

I became this person because I recognized that my personal standard for success meant being self-aware, curiously engaged, and able to tell my own story.

I learned early on that every bit of information and context I had in my arsenal was always at my disposal. Whether I’m at a bus stop in Boston or at a wharf in San Francisco, I can draw on what I’ve learned or a passion I pursued to inform my life going forward.

The only thing more potent than curiosity is the ability to use what you’ve learned. Fellow Millennials, make sure you have both in spades. Your skills and passion will always belong to you, not an employer – own your riches. We live in an age where anything we want to know is readily available, but the reverse is also true: our ability to become a source of information is unparalleled. While we can't create our own truth, we do each have a monopoly on our experiences.

Learn, draw on what you know, (re)interpret, and shout it from the virtual rooftop!

Finding Your People: Five communities to Know About

In parts one and two of my Alice in Workland series, I highlighted the lessons I learned during stints in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. While the thrill of anonymity got me to my destination, I had to hit the ground running when it came to making connections.

Whether I'm traipsing about in Indianapolis, looking for something to do in between museum visits in NYC, or scarfin' down some beignets in New Orleans, here are my go-tos when tackling a new city:

Network After Work: My former coworkers can attest to my fervent lurve of NAW. With over 40 locations across the country, we are never without options for schmoozing when traveling in the States. I attend their events here in Boston and am always bowled over by the venues they choose and the energy of the room. They boast hundreds of attendees at the monthly events in their larger hubs, but the smaller ones are no slouches. Tickets are available online and at the door, but are less expensive when you purchase them earlier. Name tags are color coded according to industry and make for good conversation starters.

Eventbrite: Perhaps it's because of Sara Steele-Rogers, Eventbrite Boston's wonder of a wingwoman, but my love of this site goes back ages. Most of the cities I've chosen to live in have been major metropolitan areas, but Eventbrite has also been a fount of fantastic opportunities when I ran programs out of Wichita and rural Indiana. Their platform is an invaluable resource for event attendees and planners alike. Their Event Academy is quite the toolbox for those of you out there getting your event management feet wet. While headquartered in San Francisco, Eventbrite's presence is felt the world over...and for good reason.

Yelp: When I first moved to Cambridge, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn about my new town's personality. Affectionately referred to as my House of Worship Hop, I immediately bookmarked churches, mosques, and meeting houses and made appointments to interview clergy and members. Over the years, Yelp has played an instrumental role in my ability to become familiar with the tenor of a community. You don't have to have to sit at a shabbat with the book upside down (because, like me, you don't read Hebrew) or have lunch with a married priest from Mississippi like I did, but I encourage you to get out there, eat some stuff, write reviews, and (hopefully) get invited to the Yelp Elite circle. You'll be in great company and their perks and special events are out of this world. Shout out to Damien who does Massachusetts proud in his Community Manager role.

Meetup: Whether you're a stay at home mom that plays death metal or a Wiccan that likes to get their archery on from time to time, Meetup is a place for people of similar interests to get together and do what they do best. Meetups became a lifesaver after moving to Cambridge five years ago. I drew on my Martha Stewart qualities in a Head Organizer role, which opened the door to other opportunities and invaluable social justice connections. If the event planning force is strong in you (but your wallet, not so much), there are opportunities for local businesses tosponsor your mini community by offering meeting space or to assume monthly operating costs.

CreativeMornings: This global community is something to write mama about. I have got to give Keith F. a shout out for revitalizing the formerly defunct Boston group. It's a pleasure to be part of a fantastic community of creative folks that meets every month. He keeps us in amazing coffee, snacks and charm like no one else can. CreativeMornings has 100 cities under its belt and they're growing every day. Each month has a different theme and presenter, and videos are uploaded on the site for those of us who are playing at home (or at work, as the meetings are...er..in the morning). Whether you're in Guadalajara or Grand Rapids, this is where the cool kids are.

As always, folks - it's been a pleasure sharing my thoughts with you. I look forward to seeing you at an event!

Alice in Workland: Because the Life You Live Will Be Your Own - Part Two

During part one of this two part article, you chattered with me behind the cash wrap at my first job. You came along with me to college in Chicago during my second. We stayed up all night contemplating the universe as navel-gazing undergrads during my third. Then, like the good friend you are, you listened to stories about my jaunts to San Francisco, LA, and every stop in between.

Now, here we are...it's the summer of 2008 and I'm itching for a new city. My rabid search for something new comes down to a summer gig at a hotel on an island off the coast of southern California and an opportunity to help run an international student dorm across from Boston Common.

Which did we choose? Well, we went east, dear friend. We went east.

6. International Student Dorm Sheriff (Summer 2008): The company I worked for in 2007 had two domestic locations, so I opted for the right one (take that however you want). I soon grew weary of the wonders that were good tacos, limo-sightings, and a solid sunscreen regimen, so I chose to continue my journey in a place covered in the ivy I'd dreamed of since I was a little girl. Yes, dear friends, I too was swaddled in crimson at an early age and groomed for ivy league schools.

Because I was working for the same company, I was able to tap into my previous experience at UCLA to help create a nice environment for my chickadees at Emerson. But as with all things in life, there were a few hiccups. There I was on the Outbound Red Line to Alewife, humongous luggage and nerves in tow. I was lost (because, y'know, Boston's not a grid city), it was sweltering like Satan's drawers in the T at Park Street ('cause "Boston's system is the oldest in the country"), and people kept staring without smiling and speaking (something I'm still not over). I stifled tears on the train, hightailed it to my dorm, checked in and promptly fell asleep. Mere weeks later, I was helping coordinate trips to New York City (my first time!), wrangled Western European teens decked out in Abercrombie & Fitch, and came to know the glory of cannoli in the North End. I took a trip to New Haven and visited my dream school for the first time. I left a message for my future self in one of the lecture halls. I hope she's encouraged by it soon.

Lessons Learned: There's no such thing as blanket bravery. The application of bravery is called upon in certain ways in given situations. The tenacity required to get you from Chicago to LA won't always get you to Boston, the aplomb that will keep you in San Francisco might evaporate during your layover in Vegas, New York City will make even the most honey badger-like of Chicagoans feel like a country bumpkin...but that's alright -

...because the place where your courage meets your experience and desire to explore despite setbacks is always the right starting point.

Interim: The Year that Shall Not be Named: I got a taste of Boston back in 2008 and spent the next year in the northern suburbs of Chicago wrestling the demon known as the Quarterlife Crisis. The economy had taken a noticeable dip for the first time in my lil' adult life and I was unsure about my next steps. I languished, I worried, I tore myself a new one for not being more STEM-focused...and got to searching for a new job in Boston. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and watched our first Black president (and First Lady, the patron saint of all Black women from Chicago) take the stage. I started a scrapbook and visual journal of the school I wanted to attend, the things I'd like to study, and the person I wanted to be. On a lovely day in July of 2009, I packed my bags, gave someone my last $12 to take me to O'Hare airport, and made my way to Cambridge.

Lessons Learned: The measure of an education is not how much income it yields (though food and shelter are high priorities). The measure of an education is wrapped up in the unrelenting search for new lessons, the desperate hunger to be self-aware as you find your way through life, and the ability to reflect and adjust your worldview. Yes, this is the journey. No, there are no shortcuts. Do not believe people who tell you that hacking your way to authenticity and maturity is possible - they are lying. Sometimes, the bravest thing you can do is sit on the floor of your bedroom and dare to be someone you never thought was a possibility. Sometimes, you've gotta go bankrupt to go somewhere.

7. Dorm Mother Hen (2009-2011): Though I'd held similar positions in multiple cities across the country, at 23, I was nobody's Mother Hen. I got an offer to co-manage a dorm in Central Square and snatched it right up. I was soon the sheriff, diplomat, grocery purchaser, and tour guide for just under 100 occupants with varying levels of English that ranged in age from 15-64. It was hard. I'd helped run programs for hundreds of students at once on college campuses. I'd admonished students for being rambunctious at 3am and I've had dance parties that could put the House scene in Berlin to shame just to show them how Americans get down. Here I was, running a building, with no contracted end in sight. Electricity out? My responsibility. Breakfast needs to be served and the deliveries are late? Rayshauna's territory. Inclement weather mucking up flight plans around the world, so you're working nonstop for three days? Roll up them sleeves and put in work, girl.

Lessons Learned: Much like my other patron saint Eleanor Roosevelt said, a woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water. Real jobs don't "come to an end" in line with semesters and vacations. The head that wears the crown is a heavy one and there will come many times in your life when the buck has got to stop with you. Leadership requires deep investment, hard work, and the willingness to take responsibility as often (if not more) as one accepts praise. Also, living where you work is...yeah...no.

8. International Student Housing Wizard (2012-2013): I was scared out of my mind to take this job. This is the first time that Impostor Syndrome reared its head in a workplace setting for me and would not leave. I managed housing bookings for hundreds of international students in the Boston area from the point of their expressed interest on. I worked with people on four continents, wrestling with governmental requirements of study with some of the most maddening retrictions (looking at you, Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia). I recruited, vetted, approved, and oversaw compensation for hundred of hosts in our network...and prayed every step of the way.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes, you will not know your ability until you step into the ring. Worrying is, in the truest sense of the word, betting against yourself. Organization and fortitude are key, but so is self-care. Company culture is a facet of the job hunt that must not be disregarded. Most of all, revel in the first time you have a business card. Handle it proudly and send one to your mother. She will keep one in her wallet and ask you for more so she can share them. Take a moment to pause and consider how far you've come, literally and metaphorically. Appreciate the equal portions of daring and stubbornness it takes to move 900 miles from home to make your bones.

Remember to be proud of yourself. The work will always be there morphing itself into twelve hour days, peppered with a spotty internet connection and no air conditioning. Remember to take care of yourself. More than being a brand, more than the ability to churn out travel itineraries for agents from around the world, you are a person - you are a person who needs care and rest.

9. Housing Queen: Call me Ishmael. This was my ninth role in my former industry in as many years and I couldn't wait to hit the ground running. My lease was up in my Brookline apartment at the end of August and I was seriously considering moving to another country. I told myself that if I found a job by September 3rd, I would stay in Boston. What happened on August 31st? I got a call from a great woman in HR. What happened within 48 hours? I was in an interview telling stories about San Francisco, LA, and every stop in between. What happened on September 3rd? My first day of work.

I soon had a handful of programs spanning the 2000 miles of country, from little enclaves in rural Indiana to ones in a Colorado city with mountains a mile high. There was the one that needed more TLC in St. Louis, the one that made my heart beat just outside of Indianapolis, the one in Wichita that pulled an upset and was rehabilitated in my final days with the company. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to work with each of these schools. As a child, I'd refuse to go to bed so I could solve puzzles, finish stories, and work on Rubik's cubes (seriously, ask my mother or aunts). Solving mysteries is my forte and that drive coupled with my introspection made me a good sleuth.

Things ultimately went south for me, but I came out of that experience with more understanding than I could possibly put into words. I'll try.

Lessons Learned: Part of knowing yourself is knowing your worth. Be humble, but don't be naive - acting unaware does not serve you. Don't say "I don't understand how..." when you want to say "This was/is unacceptable...". Sit with anger (to ensure it's legitimate); then take to the appropriate audience. Constructive criticism not received well (or taken into account and put to good use), is indicative of an unhealthy company culture. Get well.

Bring your A game, but operate within your pay grade. You are not paid to lose sleep and mental health. Above all, our experience of the world is wider, warmer, and richer than one position. Life is for the living. Go where the joy is.

Epilogue: After a much-needed break from the workforce, I'm happy to report that I started a new job last week. I'm getting my feet wet and am open to all the lessons...with all my experiences and understanding in tow.

Alice in Workland: Because the Life You Live Will Be Your Own - Part One

I got my first job at 16. I worked at a shoe store at Gurnee Mills Mall, then lovingly known as the outlet shopping hotspot of the greater Chicagoland area. The positions I've held gave me an education I couldn't have gotten at home or in the classroom. I'd like to share a sliver of what I picked up at every step in my work history with you. So, sit back, relax, and prepare yourself for the escapades of my workplace wonderland:

1. Shoe Store Jockey - Gurnee, IL location (2002-2004): People steal. People will attempt to lifehack the crap out of store promotions and expired coupons. Be it the Fourth of July or Black Friday, a holiday will swoop in like the screeching banshee it is and undo all of your careful organizing...leaving piles of mismatched shoes like demon droppings in its wake. While the pittance you work for won't afford you Rockefeller status, you will earn enough to replace the gas in your aunt's car, buy frappuccinos, and get your nails done. You'll learn the value of listening to customers, order and precision when running others' credit cards. You'll come to value standing in a huddle behind the cash wrap while eating snacks and swapping stories with coworkers. You'll relish the opportunity to use your hard earned dollars to buy snazzy accessories from your employer (at a 40% discount, of course).

Lesson Learned: There is more weight to money than how many baubles it can give you...you'll learn its relationship to hard work. Camaraderie is unparalled. When the power goes out, you'll need to know how to do two things: change typewriter ribbon and use a manual credit card machine. I have a PhD in both.

2. Shoe Store Jockey - Chicago Lincoln Park location (2004-2005):People still steal. I asked to be transferred to my employer's Chicago location in Lincoln Park after graduating from high school* because I knew that my university wouldn't pay for me to get my nails done. I was not prepared to cease living in the manner to which I became accustomed and quickly grew tired of taking the EL in freezing temperatures to get to work from Albany Park (I had a car in the suburbs). I wanted to associate Lincoln Park with shopping...my shopping. Filled with little boutiques and coffeeshops, Lincoln Park has always been a favorite neighborhood of mine. As a young'un riding the train during thattwo hour high school commute, I imagined myself as an adorable twentysomething nursing a latte and ruminating over vegan pursemaking practices. This was the first time I made a move connected to a life I envisioned for myself.

Lesson Learned: Part of being a successful employee (and sojourner in the workforce) is knowing when to say goodbye. While all movement ain't progress, change can provide us with the gift we didn't know we needed...like wool socks during a Chicago winter.

3. Front Desk Human Sitter Person at My University's Dorms (2005-2006): One could say that this is where I first started being the Rayshauna that my friends came to know and love. I used this opportunity to shine a spotlight on my Night Owl powers by starting conversations with fellow North Parkers that lasted until 6 or 7am, after which I would either head over to the cafeteria for breakfast (to continue said conversation) or retire to the common lounge to watch Xena. I call my alma mater a ritual space - while it was a predominately white Christian university in my hometown (that came with quite the set of theological baggage), I established relationships there that have become the ones I value most.

Lesson Learned: There can be intense meaning in the seemingly mundane. The attributes that make me "me" have always been there, waiting in the wings. My college friends and I now live all over the world. Some of us are heads of houses of worship, some of us are professors, some are navel-gazing aficionados of turning a phrase like myself, but we are all marked with the shadow of having been there. We sat in community in pairs, in larger groups with our narratives in tow. We negotiated our worldviews and brought to the table the culmination of our families' indoctrination...and went away better for it.

The skills, propensities, and experiences you've dismissed can prove to be the makings of something great...and more important, something meaningful.

4. Summer Camp Counselor (Summer 2006): This opportunity was 2000 miles from home. I had never spent a birthday away from family. I'd never heard the call of the Lord on my life...and never intended to. I worked for a summer at a predominately white church in California's Bay Area - and it is a summer I'll never forget. Daily excursions with some of the most adorable chickadees this side of heaven opened my eyes to how complex (and demanding) childcare is. I am still convinced that parenthood's a ministry in and of itself (to which most humans aren't and should never think they're called). My immediate supervisor recognized this and graciously had me placed in the church office to do admin work...which I adored. While I no longer identify as a Christian, I'll never forget the language for care and love that I picked up in this position. Intentional, radical community (not tethered to race or social circumstance) never struck me as necessary...now I can't imagine my worldview without capacity for it.

Lesson Learned: You are not cut out for every position. While every position you hold will not thrill you endlessly, it is important to assume roles that will not make you want to cleave your flesh from your bones. Growing up in a Christian church does not mean automatic kinship with other Christians. You will go bald and hoarse attempting to teach people who've never sung Black Gospel music or stepped...to sing Black Gospel music and step. You will be horrified by the sight of dozens of white teens in dark face paint playing whatever game you've forgotten the name of for the sake of everyone's safety. You will need to understand what sunscreen is...and what to do when you discover you're allergic to most of it. No, the sound of earthquakes is not the sound of Jesus coming back.

Most important of all, you will learn to appreciate the majestic beauty of mountains and come to find kinship with the Pacific Ocean. You will learn that, much like the played out saying, sometimes you've gotta go away to find yourself.

5. International Student Dorm Sheriff (Summer 2007): I got a taste of California and couldn't get enough. I scoured Craigslist for positions after deciding that LA was next on my list. I found a job helping to run a few floors of a dorm on UCLA's campus. I discovered the glories that are tacos in LA and settling into one's sunscreen regimen. I accompanied my international students on jaunts around the city (mostly shopping under the guise of language learning), and gazed into the abyss that is the Pacific Ocean at Venice Beach.

Lessons Learned: LA was still using bus tokens in 2007. It is wise to avert your gaze when you see Suge Knight in public. Borrowing a coworker's run over shoes and going dancing in West LA can be more freeing than anything you might've imagined. Also, most of the brave things you do will arise from simply daring yourself. I didn't have money to get to LA from Chicago. I had my employer provide the one way airfare (taken out of my first check), flew to LAX with $24 in my pocket, and spent my first night at a motel on The Stroll because the dorm wasn't ready when I arrived. After this position ended, l mustered up the courage to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, though I was Midwestern girl who'd never driven in the mountains after dark with no guard rails. I took a train to San Luis Obispo, got grossed out by Bubble Gum Alley, rented a car and drove to Berkeley after stopping by Hearst Castle. I stood in the circle of demonstration lore and channeled my inner Mario Savio. I shopped on Telegraph road. I ate the world's most perfect sandwich in Sausalito and wept at the joy and newness of it all.

I soon learned that I would only experience what I put myself in spaces to experience. I would only have what I help create. The world is out there...and it calls us to venture toward it.

*Zion-Benton Township High School's Class of 2004. ZeeBees, stand up! :)

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye: When I Knew It Was Time to Quit

Like every other aspect of my life, my ideas about work and company loyalty were informed by culture and the experiences of relatives I'd grown up with. Our work culture has shifted in ways many of us would've never expected and though I'm a very proud Millennial, I recently realized that I needed to undergo a shift as well.

A bit of background: I grew up in a Black family in Chicago whose matriarch and patriarch had come up from Mississippi in the late '50s. My mother worked jobs to supplement her income and I grew up selling candy and being a mini 'trep because it was invigorating and fun and kept me in pocket change. I grew up watching my grandfather rise in the morning, battle the Chicago winters and come home year after year, mentioning the goings-on of his workplace like the Black version of an Everyman telenovela. He'd worked multiple jobs for decades to support a family of eight and always brought home amazing food from Oscar Mayer.

I thought that loyalty to a workplace was indicative of solid character. Unbeknownst to him, this was my grandfather's lesson about work ethic to me: "show up, put in work, return year after year until you can't do it no more or they close the plant". My grandfather grew up flitting to and from jukejoints, cotton fields, and school in rural Mississippi in the '40s. Nearly seventy years later, I learned that it does not serve me to hold fast to that model of work ethic and expected reward in today's culture.

I'm in my late 20s. I was born and raised in Chicago. I chose to make my bones in Cambridge, where code and creativity are king...not calluses, the natural byproduct of Sisyphean efforts in manual labor. My gifts in the workplace are conceptual and critical of culture. This is where I shine.

Now, let me tell you why I chose to take my shine elsewhere.

1. Make a way out of no way. Remember what I lead with. I grew up with old school, Southern standards of the value of work. I carry with me the reality that you will only have what you create. Wallace Stegner was right when he said that culture is a pyramid to which each of us brings a stone. If everyone doesn't bring something grand to the table, we won't have what we need. While I have a responsibility as an employee to bring my A game by drawing on my skills in service of my passions within my workplace context, it is never okay to be insufficiently trained and unsupported.

While my dream position would enable me to work hard in service of clear goals (preferably with dynamic snacks and funny coworkers in the mix), sometimes my position will entail making a dollar out of fifteen cents. That should never be the regular state of affairs.

2. Seems, madam? Nay it is, I know not seems. Shakespeare should've written a folio or two about workplaces, 'cause this one is on the money for my next point. A workplace is only healthy insofar as its vision rests in harmony with its practices and goals. I stayed in my industry for as long as I have (10 years for a 28 year old is meaningful) because I believe in the virtues of multiculturalism done right. I've witnessed the harmony and understanding engendered at the dinner table of a popular dormitory. I've seen the youngest generations of countries formerly at war bond over Americans' terrible French and German accents. I've heard the warmth in a Saudi Arabian student's voice after spending Christmas and Kwanzaa with their Black American host family in Dorchester.

I've left positions feeling accomplished because I've been given the tools I need to succeed. The best workplaces thrive when its members' gifts and insight are honored. An underlying current of job insecurity, resentment and defeatism does nothing positive for employees or the owners' bottom line. It simply contributes to overworked, bitter employees who will improve their LinkedIn profiles, polish networking skills and use their benefits before they expire.

3. Good for the geese, unnecessary for the gander. You might've gleaned by now that I am a very big fan of using (sub)culture as a set of lenses through which I interpret how we live, understand, and interact with one another. Cultural sensitivity training, regardless of industry, can provide many with tools they need for navigating an increasingly diverse workplace when done right. That said, multinational companies have got to come to terms with the fact that the United States does not have it all together. Training foreign team members while allowing domestic ones to languish under a lack of awareness can only harm your company...and drive a wedge between employees.

I usually find myself in spaces where women and people of color are underrepresented. I live in a house in Cambridge sandwiched in between MIT and Harvard and am learning more and more about the startup and tech scenes out here. If I know one thing to be true it's this: technology and solid infrastructure help us figure out how we live, and even help us do so with more ease...but people who are adept at interpreting culture and telling our story will always serve us by reminding us of why.

4. Blocks, stones, worse than senseless things. I have really got Shakespeare on the brain tonight. I'll lay this one out plain: I knew it was sayonara time when I felt impeded by middle and upper management. While I'm no stranger to management or positions of influence, I don't thirst after positions of authority. It's simply not my style. I know for a fact that the head that wears the crown is a heavy one, and rightly so - any head worth being crowned should be aware of the gravity of their position.

Management is not for the weary, and in a perfect world, not for those who lack humility, empathy and appreciation for the people who chose to pour their time and talent into the mix. So it goes.

5. Gone girl. I am a thoughtful cookie. I am observant and comfortable sitting with my feelings until I have language for my understanding (or lack thereof). I knew it was time to leave when I no longer had a heart for what I did, when the thought of boarding a bus to make my hour-long commute tugged at my heartstrings, when I operated in my role during the workday while brainstorming how I'd account for it on my resume. I typed up my resignation letter while teary-eyed. I went into a conference room and thought about what I'd be leaving behind, and about the failure I'd been part of. There's a saying that goes: Tell the truth...even if your voice shakes. I knew that I was in no position to keep this position, so I told the truth while my voice shook.

The heart always knows. The spirit can always tell. The work ethic always suffers as a result.

Having grace for myself was important. It's been said that everything you need to know about a company is communicated before you even peruse the offer letter. I've gone away from an incredibly lackluster experience with more understanding of myself, my working style, and most of all...

...a value system around work more fitting for this century.

To Thine Own Self (and Others) Be True: Networking Tips

I'm an introvert. I also have the good fortune of being brave, warm and genuinely interested in what other people think and have to say. When I first moved to Cambridge from Chicago, I didn't know a soul. I wasn't moving east for school, had no family within 900 miles and wasn't a person of faith who could draw on my religious affiliation to have a ready made "in" anywhere. For many, especially in the Boston area, this is a recipe for disaster.

Let me tell you how I made my personality work for me.

Be Open. In my experience, the only thing more powerful than my circumstances is the way I perceive them. I've often been accused of being capricious, but this love of exploration has been the thread running the course of my entire life. As a child, I meandered through the neighborhoods immediately surrounding my own on the southside of Chicago. As an adolescent, I rode the El with friends after school, often hitting O'Hare on the Blue line, Kimball on the Brown, and 95th on the Red once I felt it was time to come home. As an undergrad, I would routinely pull out a map of the continental U.S. and find a summer job in a city I'd chosen by closing my eyes and pointing.

Whether I was learning the value of contemplative walks in my neighborhood or developing a love affair with my beautiful hometown during my four hour daily high school commute, it can never be said that I didn't show up. My ability to connect is wholly tethered to my intentionally being in a space and making my time there mean something.

Manage Energy While Managing Time. Remember my opening line: I am an introvert. As a matter of fact, I'm an INFJ, the closest thing to a unicorn you're likely to encounter outside of billion-dollar startup circles. It's just as important to be in tune with what you can handle as when you're able to allocate time for it. I budget a lot of my connection energy into retaining information about the people I choose to engage, so I'm likely to know who I'd like to speak with, about what, and what value I might be able to bring to the table for them.

This is not a spiritual gift. This is information one can easily gather and a skill that's cultivated when we engage people warmly (so they share with you), listen intently (so they know their words land with you), and follow up soon after (so they know you're intentional and invested).

This is difficult to do if you're intent on speaking with everyone at a shindig and putting a card in every hand in between attempts to get on the microphone. I'm a fan of cultivating strategic connections so that all parties involved draw something genuine and meaningful from the exchange.

Helpful Tips:

Now that I've given you a bit of background, allow me to share some of my go-tos for networking events. Enjoy them!

1. Prep: Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is on point and your website (if applicable) has been updated in the last 2-3 weeks. Ain't a networking hiccup on earth worse than not appearing invested in your own online identity. Many people stress because they don't know how to convey that they're an insightful, wonderful person to know - which is why I suggest offering precious little (but fascinating) info right out the gate...and having your provocative interaction land squarely on a well-rounded online presence.

I wasn't sure how to configure a LinkedIn profile that did the speaking for me. After weeks of stressing about the order of the bullet points in my profile, I decided to highlight my work history in narrative form. The Biggest Lesson andCrowning Glory sections are a nice touch, dontcha think? ;)

2. The "Soft Pursuit": If RSVPs are visible, scan for folks you might've schmoozed with before and send a note about "loving to hear what they've been up to". Throw a lighthearted one-liner in there related to what you spoke about last time. When I've connected with people, their stories and searches become part of my networking landscape. When I'm moving in a space, I'm constantly thinking about how others might benefit from communities I'm a member of and connections I've already made. I don't believe in pulling up one chair - I believe in bringing people along with you...even if they're on the other side of the world.

...and in a world where who you know is a mighty factor, sending a little note along goes over a long way.

3. The "Open Door": If RSVPs are not visible (or you've never been acquainted with anyone listed) I'd encourage you to add your information - personal site, Twitter handle and enter a short blurb about your field. I love when hosts enable visible RSVPs on Eventbrite (Boston's Opus Affair also does this SO well) because it enables us to not only think about connections we're looking to forge...but how we can be helpful.

I strongly suggest being transparent about not knowing anyone in attendance. Welcome people to come over to chat. Add something corny like "I like long walks on the beach""Please ask me about the latest Scandal episode" or "I'll be wearing the red rose on my lapel". When you arrive, write your name on your tag, but add that Twitter handle too (if that's the sort of crowd). I love thatCoFoundersLab has a red dot for people looking to hire and blue ones for people looking for opportunities. Socializing for Justice encourages people to include something they want people to "ask them about".

If you play your cards right, dorkdom and warm hilarity will ensue and like-minded people will feel comfortable strolling up to say hi.

4. Know Thyself, Schmoozer: I pick the right networking event for my personality and am "on" when I show up. It is work, but a major part of introversion is managing and budgeting energy. On the flip side, don't attend a networking event with the intention of riding the energy of the room by attaching yourself to a cluster of people and waiting to be asked a barrage of uninspired questions.  Another habit that will render you persona non grata is neglecting other attendees by never thinking of their priorities and how you can be of use to them.

Just like your personal brand, your schmoozing ability is your own - and we sink and swim in direct relation to how able we are to engage and offer value to other people...as with all things in life.

5. Introversion, Shyness, Social Awkwardness: Introversion is often interpreted as shyness or social awkwardness, though they can be mutually exclusive. If you're shy, I suggest offering to volunteer for the initial half hour so you can greet attendees in an official capacity or showing up a few minutes early and chatting up the host. If you're shy, entering a space with scores of people (and energy) is far more intimidating / off-putting than helping to set the tone. In addition, I suggest the 90 degree rule: Keep your eyeline parallel to the floor - maintain reasonable eye contact and don't stare at those shoes! I'll admit: social awkwardness is something I've never experienced, so feel free to add your two cents in the comments!

6. "You Get a Card and You Get a Card!": I'm a card person. I like LinkedIn, but I love to be able to hand someone something when we walk away from our conversation. Sometimes, I pull out the collection of cards I've amassed during my time in Boston and I think about folks that need to "meet" each other, events that could benefit from a more diverse panel of speakers, and organizations that could enrich their industry if only they'd work together.

The initial hurdle for me was learning to take ownership of my skills...even if they were forged and improved upon in service of a company culture. When I was with my former employer, I didn't want to always be associated with them because my narrative and skills are my own. My insight and identity meet in ways that predate my time with any employer, and so do yours. I know we've got smartphones, but dear reader - get a card made. I am a minimalist, so my personal card is white with black type, with my name prominently featured and my website. LinkedIn is great, your employer's card might be snazzy, but I'm a big fan of my card fitting my style and highlighting specific info. Classic and classy.

7. Hunter, Meet Prey: I'm also a solo networker. Half the battle is knowing your style. While other folks and organizations are on my mind, I also enjoy introducing other people. Beyond enjoyment, some people will appreciate having a lil' help along the way. Remember our interlocutors that struggle with shyness and social awkwardness. Facilitate meaningful interactions by using your abilities in service of yourself...and others.

If I meet Person A and am near someone who's alone / visibly uncomfortable, I warmly ask: "Have you met A?", then launch into info they shared. Person A is impressed that I remembered (while further cementing the info in my head) and Person B has an easy 'in". Great experience all around. :)

8. Get Me Bodied: Beyonce was on to something. I'm a petite woman who's 5'1. If you have a more commanding stature, be mindful of how your body is occupying space when networking. While we should all respect personal space (and acknowledge that this differs along culture and personality), tall folks, men, and folks who happen to be both should have this in the front of their minds. Part of our cultural understanding of the world influences how we're taught to physically interact with and handle people.

I repeat: this is all culturally informed and just because you're comfortable does not mean that your interlocutors are.

9. People, People Who Need People: Be mindful of your mindset. I love seeing how people's interests and skills fit (sometimes like glorious pieces of this patchwork quilt working world of ours), but they are always people...never solely opportunities. Being self-serving is picked up on quickly and people who are adept at picking up these cues will steer clear of you (taking their ideas and connections with them).

I'm an INFJ that loves to strategize, take in as much as she can, and find interesting ways to convey meaningful ideas. Check out 16 Personalities' informal Myers Briggs quiz and Good.co's apps for Android and iPhone to ascertain more info about yourself. 

...and meet my buddy Levi Baer, Chicago-based community building extraordinaire. He's helping us get in touch with our skills and laying the foundation for dynamic communities. 

10. The Big Picture: If I had to sum up my networking "rules", it'd be this: Know your narrative, know your style. Don't be aimless and inauthentic, but be open - which will sometimes mean turning on the charm. Be prepared without being predatory. Most important of all, get yourself a beer and make new friends. I'm a Guinness woman through and through, but I stick to Stella while networking.

Thanks for reading and Happy Networking!