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ironiya • this career-oriented blog—published on biweekly Wednesdays—looks at the positive and sometimes ironic sides of a kaleidoscopic range of workplace and life issues, from education and employment to discipline and discord •

using time wisely: autumn leaves

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In just five days, when December 20th comes to a close, autumn leaves and we brace for winter. How many of us remember the start of 2015 as though it took place a mere few months ago? Then multiply that feeling by 10 and a decade has passed. How easy it is to forego an extra hour for Law & Order, a further hour for Judge Judy, confident that the time could well be made up tomorrow, next month, next year…. Fill in the blanks for any activity that stretches a bit too far and the hours add up like credit-card interest, unable to be recouped and ultimately a waste. Read More 

avoiding the instinct: gesticular cancer

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That one gesture, that universal conveyance of anger and defiance, that singular finger. Yet beyond what can causally be attributed to this or that surface offense or vernacular veneer, why is it so pervasive? What lies under the skin?

Looking outward: Someone aggressively weaves in and out of congested traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway with the no-holds-barred determination of getting to that McDonald’s or bank drive-thru window 90 seconds earlier. Rather than react with that all-too-common shot of disgust, rather than increase hormones and heartbeats, why not just let it pass? Read More 

learning another language: cursed words

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It’s a very safe bet that everyone reading this has either directly had the following experience or knows someone who has—spouse, child, friend, relative or colleague:

You’ve taken three or four years of high-school French or Spanish, then another three or four more years in college (where the offerings are significantly broader, extending from Mandarin to Russian to Hindi and all points between)… and six months later you remember a few dozen words and cannot speak or read the language, as far from fluency as Paris is from Beijing. You’re intelligent and motivated, and did all of the requested homework, yet the results speak for themselves. I simply have no gift for languages, you think, and move on to other areas of study and projects that yield tangible results. Read More 

sitting in traffic: road kill

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The concept of sitting amongst interminable traffic is so widespread and familiar as to make regular clichés seem like fresh air in Beijing. How we respond can make the difference between being impatient and forlorn for the entire day or at peace and productive in light of what cannot be changed.

Do we curse or listen to an audiobook? Do we throw up a thin body part in a form of gesticular cancer or do we put on a foreign language-learning CD? Do we feel stress to the point of needing a heart stent or do we call ahead and let them know that we’ll be late? Read More 

the absence of discipline: canceled checks

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Why is it that ‘discipline’ so often seems like little more than 2½ four-letter words? Or the rebuke of stern punishment? Or behavior as tightly controlled as a bank teller’s drawer? Why is it that typing this singular word into a Google search yields an overwhelming number of articles about disciplining children? Why is it that self-discipline more often than not evokes giving up statin-inducing cheesecake and excessive beer and lazy workdays?

Because that’s where human instinct would have us go. Yet the absence of discipline yields little more than galling gluttony. The hard-to-digest fact—counterintuitive as it may initially seem—is that the joy of discipline is far more sustaining than pleasures as easy to obtain as pints of ice cream or Scotch. Take any kind of work (another four-letter word, but that’s for another time…) that you love and are highly motivated to achieve, then measure how it feels after four or five solid hours of intense work. Exhausted? Sure. Exhilarated? Equally sure. Read More 

on the surface: stock exchanges

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It’s surely understandable that the small daily interactions most of us carry on each day—be they with bank tellers to retail clerks and everyone in between—don’t plumb the depths of how we truly feel. Who has the time or inclination? Who would go into a Starbucks and, in response to “How are you doing?” confess to feeling poignantly low in the wake of a friend’s or family member’s death? Or, for that matter, on the other side of the compass: “I just came from a six-mile run and feel incredibly grateful to be able to put one foot in front of the other.”

I’ve recently been more deliberate with these kinds of interactions, by responding with a very brief but sensitive comment about life, politics, health, family, education et al. It’s been gratifying to recognize how quickly we can form strong connections with those whom we don’t really know, with the resulting warmth carrying throughout the day. Read More 

putting disagreements in perspective: miniature gulf

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In both career and personal relationships, how often do disagreements come up—problems of interpretation or perspective, of contracts or property—that cause significant setbacks? How often does the divide seem irreconcilable, the gulf not bridgeable?

Take a moment, though, to consider the broader perspective. Are your days filled with humility and gratitude, or does pride take center stage? Are you graced with intelligence and good health, with skills and resources? If so, is this or that issue really so important for you to fight over? Is it worth the stress hormones and loss of sleep? Read More 

lost in technology: manual transmission

Births, weddings and funerals tend to be when the home phone rings most often, when the mailbox swells with congratulatory or sympathy cards. Yet when was the last time you received a phone call or handwritten card in the wake of a new job or promotion, a positive doctor’s report, the start of summer? These and dozens of other of life’s joys to be celebrated and shared may be acknowledged with a quick text or email, but the personal touch beyond the screen and processor appears to have become as rare as rush-hour patience on I-95. Read More 

putting your best foot forward: track & field

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You’ve got résumés out to 100 companies. How to make sense of it all? Categorize them by type, location, priority or preference. Follow up with each contact as if the only one. The personal touch can never be overestimated. Don’t send an email, but write (in longhand) and mail a card thanking for the opportunity. Use the post office’s breast-cancer stamps—not to impress anyone, but simply to do the right thing. And even though this is through and through a business relationship, don’t forego the personal touches, the fellowship of similar interests, the acknowledgement of mutual goals. Keep track of even small details, an effort that will distinguish you as a prime prospect. Read More 

key perspectives: fresh produce

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One’s mental and physical outlook has incalculable benefits upon productivity and key perspectives.

So that knowledge and $5 will get you a cup of Starbucks, right? But add somevanilla and cinnamon in the form of what you really believe in and watch the price come down while your cup runneth over. This isn’t some pithy statement borne of over-caffeinated wishful thinking, but a universal truism that remains surprisingly lacking across industries and businesses both large and small. Read More