Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Traffic Court

According to the ticket for a crime (not stopping at a stop sign) I swear I didn't commit, I had to be at Hackensack's Town Hall at 9:00 this morning yet here I was putting on the Dries shirt from last year with the grey wide-legged pants at 8:45 in a panic because what do you traffic court?

Maybe it's my paltry inner life or could it be my paltry life but these 'events' weigh heavily upon me especially when I need to make the sartorial decisions that either grease my trip or trip me up. "I'm going in front of a Judge for chrissakes," I shouted to The Lord as I unbuttoned the shirt and tried on the white Henley, way too sheer to be worn solo but perhaps with a cashmere Henley over it? No, no, no...too casual. I've watched enough shows to know that this -- court -- is the epicenter of glowering individuals just ready to throw the book at you. I knew the message I needed to craft was of a fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizen (who frankly had been caught in a dragnet that was meant to line the coffers of Hackensack's crumbling economy). Besides the shame of getting pulled over for absolutely nothing (okay, maybe I didn't do a full stop but I definitely tapped the brake), I now had to deal with the annoying two points on the license which in the scheme of things doesn't really mean too much but still. Last time I had four points I drove like an old grandma in a Ford Valiant, worrying every time I saw a police car behind me. I'm 55 now...there are few pleasures left and certainly going over the speed limit on the turnpike is a decided pleasure.

Fine, the matching v-neck sweater with two strands of vintage cherry amber. Nobody would know they're worth anything so I won't look conspicuous. Maybe just a watch, my tiny gold watch, probably the nicest gift the Lord ever gave me. I'm done. Just as I walked out of the bedroom I took another peek and noticed I wasn't wearing earrings. Would big, swinging hoops be too insouciant? Might the Judge judge me as someone who's a bit wild and therefore prone to not only going through stop signs but also cutting through a private parking lot to avoid the terrified driver who can't jump in front of traffic at the stop sign? (That was eons ago but I suffered those four points for three long years.)

I need a little post of an earring. Nothing too eye-catching but something fine since this is a court of law. You would think all this would come naturally since I've relentlessly stood up for the skirt rule at funerals but no, now it's almost 9:15 and I'm still unsure as to the size of the earring since there's the teensy diamond pave ball earrings that are so tiny they could only be considered ironic or the slightly larger pave balls that are far more soigne but perhaps riskier? I'm sure I'm channeling previous anxieties from long ago epochs when paterfamilias and mamafamilias handed down their daily pronouncements but seriously...I've got to get to court.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Look Up, Not Down

Anyone know of a nice cave for rent? I have considered other possibilities but I think a cozy bunker might be the ticket for winter '09. Really, who wants to stick around for the 'shock and awe' clips of our economy under attack. Isn't it obvious how the race to the White House morphed so seamlessly into the Great Depression 2.0 so as not to impact the ratings?

During the heat of the campaign when things started looking grim, Sen. Obama urged his followers to tune out the cable stations and the blogs and just relax. May I suggest we all do the same? Heavens, if you could go in and tinker, please do but if you're just like me, there's very little you can do except:

Call your favorite recent graduate who is still trying to catch some wind in his sails. Don't deny the reality of the job market but let him know you're available for support when he's feeling overwhelmed.

Know someone who's been downsized? She could use your brain power. Cut adrift from the corporation is akin to getting tossed out of the family manse. Let her know she can find an intelligent listener when she needs it.

Make yourself indispensable. Treat everyday like it's the first day of school when making that first impression was critically important to the rest of the semester.

Attitude trumps Aptitude. Fine, you're a brilliant marketer but you're also moody and difficult to work with. That's not the reputation you can bank on.

Return phone calls, emails, text messages -- even smoke signals -- within 24 hours. In the old days, B.R. (before recession), those details were annoying but not job-threatening. Now, everyone's got to play championship ball.

Be anything but generic. From your cover letters to your voicemail messages to the way you sign off on your emails, craft an image of someone who values competence and purpose with a big dollop of energy and flair.

Look up, not down. If you were climbing a mountain you'd focus on the summit, not the abyss.

Monday, December 8, 2008

And What Are You Wearing?

Are you familiar with Patricia Marx? She's one of the cleverest of writers at the New Yorker and in last week's Christmas Shopping article she enchanted me with the line, " What are you wearing to the recession?" In all the Great Depression stories handed down by my beloved grandmother Tillie, I do not recall a single anecdote (alas) relating to her attire.

When the going gets tough, the tough must demonstrate even greater fortitude and resilience in their sartorial decisions. And that is why I stood in front of the closet this morning and carefully weighed the choices.

Comfort is out. Anything that suggests complacency is verboten.

Color must be muted. Camouflage anxiety by sticking to neutrals rather than the flashier jewel tones.

With the economy in flames, go for pieces that are flame retardant like simple skirts, perfectly-tailored pants, starched white shirts, sensible shoes (women) and crisp shirts, pressed pants, jackets and yes, ties (men).

Don't you love a woman/man in uniform? Whether it's work or play, opt for clothes that bespeak an appreciation for discipline and focus.

R.I.P.the accoutrements of entitlement (drainpipe jeans, high heeled boots, stratospherically expensive handbags, unironed shirts).

Everything old looks new again. (Hint: Shop the closet)

Go counterintuitive. No matter how grim the news, start out each day looking like a zillion. Your stock is still soaring no matter what.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Give Truth Some Sheen

I am partial to employing the Socratic Method whenever a big important question lands on my radar screen so today I wish to thrash out the important difference between bulls**t and spin.

Last week a phone call with a colleague who said "business is booming" gave me pause. No one I know except maybe Mark M. who runs a second-rate tombstone company in Brooklyn is having a banner year yet this colleague never wavers. Not only is his business great but his personal life is pretty extraordinary too. Unlike the rest of us who slog away at long-term marriages, this remarkable man has never been more in love with his spouse.

From a marketing standpoint, my colleague has staked a very muscular position. He's painting a vivid picture of someone unbowed and undaunted by a tanking economy which might lead me to think that he's not only awfully good at what he does but lucky too. So, he's spinning. On the other hand, since he lives in another part of the country and I see him infrequently, he could also be full of s**t. Is there a difference?

I think there is.

I'm a huge fan of spin. Your business is up, your business is down...who cares except you? Masters of spin understand the importance of literary license to create an aura of dogged determination and accomplishment. Can you imagine getting through the day if everyone told the truth?

Spin is a way to shape your personal narrative, to make it clear that no matter how tough it is you're up to the fight. Armed with some spicy spin you will rarely duck from conversation since now you're simply embellishing the truth, giving it a nice lovely sheen. Spin is therapeutic, too since the more you say it, the more you believe it and that's wonderful. Nothing makes me heart go faster than hearing my own spin and reigniting the passion for what I do. That's the cool thing about self-generated enthusiasm -- it's exponential.

As for bulls**t, it serves little purpose except sabotage. It's the surest and quickest way to sever a relationship, connection or opportunity. And that's the one thing we never want to do, do we?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Socks to the Knee!

Hmmm. For the last few weeks, I've been weighing whether to focus on the most logical or the most frivolous way to approach the economic downturn. While The Lord would advocate for logic, my penchant is to leave that to the more sober-minded and look for opportunities to demonstrate a more creative mindset.

This is absolutely not the right time to lay low. Yes, I know, that does seem to be the most natural stance to take but it's counterproductive. Do not hide and do not keep your mouth shut. This is the time to come out swinging! Those who can demonstrate a confident, easy and accessible manner will have the edge when the going gets less bumpy.

Out-charm your competition with an engaging manner that puts people at ease. Smile first, initiate a hello, start a conversation with a stranger, hold the door, stand when you shake hands, offer compliments, write handwritten thank you notes, return your phone calls, close the loop on emails, offer referrals, recommendations and research and treat people as if you're incredibly happy to see them.

Knife-blade sharp pant creases, polished shoes, manicured nails, up-to-date eyeglasses, freshly-laundered shirts, socks to the knees (men), textured socks under pants (women), off-beat accessories like a beret paint a picture of someone with disciplined panache.

Wit, humor, whimsy can't be underestimated especially now when the stakes are high. President-Elect Obama is a study of someone who relishes the chance to be witty while still keeping his hand on the rudder. The importance of being (too) earnest is vastly over-rated.

Nurture your contacts so they're ready if you need them. It's so much easier to cross a bridge than build one. Use the holiday as a reason to call or send a card but for godssakes don't send a Christmas letter. (Have some mercy.)