Make that big change… or not! Thanks to these self-retrospection exercises

Unhappy in your job, but uncertain if you changed, what you would do? Or perhaps you have a job you used to love, how do you rediscover that passion?

In business and agile product management, we talk about “pivoting” a product to meet the market. Pivoting is tweaking, changing direction, rebranding and more. But what about ourselves? Why not use the same product management and agile skills to improve ourselves, the most important product of all?

Business People doing Business Things
Obligatory motivational business photo with vague symbols and action lines. This could be you!

How do we pivot ourselves to meet our own “internal market” so that we may perform our best, motivated by our passion, and increase our return on investment (aka more happiness)?

Enough of these questions! The answers lie within you. Here are some self-retrospection exercises that have helped me and others make that big (or small) change towards happiness.

Exercise #1: Papertrail retrospection: What is “Past You”‘s “why?”

What makes you happy? Dogs make me happy.

Before knowing your next step, it is first important to reaffirm your baseline of what motivates you when out in the wild. Much like a business must construct the “why” of their product and test it, so must you. This is facilitated by looking back at your past life “tests” or experiences.

This exercise is especially important when considering big changes, and the answer can keep you in check in the future.

  1. Print out your CV, your Facebook/Twitter feed, your last couple emails, etc. or have them pulled up on your computer screen and grab a notebook to make notes. Do not just go off memory as you are bound to forget the important small details.
  2. Highlight/note the experiences where you were legitimately happy and/or proud.
  3. Take it a step deeper: WHY were you happy? Keep on asking “Why?” until you get to the underlying value that motivated your efforts. This may take a couple sessions of reflection to discover and it could evolve over time.
    Example: I was happiest when I helped launch that new website for a volunteer association. Why? Because it helped multiple countries. But why that? I was able to achieve something with a multi-national group. But why that? I met new interesting people and learned about myself. But why that? I enjoy new experiences with new cultures. But why that? I like diversity and challenging my own perspective. But why that? I need to continually grow and feel part of a global community.
  4. Now brainstorm what activities can you cut out to focus on only those that build you toward happiness. Or, do you need a complete change? No worry. you already have experience. Just look at your highlighted CV or notes!
    Examples:

    1. I only do websites as a hobby. I will focus on increasing my programming skills in my off time and start applying for international freelance projects.
    2. I will liberate time in my schedule by cutting out unnecessary meetings, and I will from my boss request approval to participate in the companies’ culture think-tank.

Bonus activity: Recreate your CV putting your highlighted experiences in the forefront and start floating it around on recrutement sites or consider going independent. You will be surprised how many bites you may get and how more motivated and convincing you will be in your interviews if it something you ACTUALLY like.

You recreating your CV.
Cannot find ANYTHING in your CV that makes you happy or proud?

That is why I also suggest searching your social media feeds, old photos, or personal emails. What makes you smile? You can still use these items to professionally progress. I know someone who once got a development job due to the personal WoW videogame forum he created. In interviews, I have successfully used my volunteer dance teaching and event organisation experience to boost myself. Often these personal experiences show more your motivation than paid gigs.

Me in college contemplating how I can spin “making wine in my closet” in my next job interview

Exercise #2: Classic Retrospection… Do, Rinse and Repeat

As I wrote about in my last article, retrospection can be applied in organisations on varying team levels. Also do that for yourself! I am a firm believer that the Agile methodology does not just apply to business.

This exercise is good to do on a continuous basis. Reflecting on your entire life or one area (personal, family or side professional project), ask yourself:

In [AREA OF MY LIFE]…

What has made me the happiest?

What takes away from my happiness?

What are some solutions?

Journal out your responses; focus on one solution (we cannot change Rome in a day); and then return to this in your next self-retrospection in the coming week, month, etc. Find your rhythm and stick to it.

Yellow jacket not required.

The End Result

The end result could be:

  1. You do love your job and now you know why you love it. In addition, you can use this knowledge of your “why” to decide in the future on new endeavors or commitments.
  2. You love your job but you currently are spending too much time on happiness-detractors derailing you.
  3. You would like to change within your field.
  4. You have exhausted all possibilities, and now, want to completely change.

All these are fine responses. Reflect (but not too much) and then just do it. Take your next step or embrace where you are.

Ever feel like you are waiting for a sign? Oh well, back to the game!

A Personal Case Study:

These activities are based upon past mentoring experiences and my own recent personal journey. For those interested, my recent foibles go as follows:

I started as a web developer and designer. Seven years ago, I transitioned to team and product management. Now I am an Agile organisation and product vision coach, trainer and writer.

Accurate depiction of me

Five months ago, I took my latest leap to coach 100%. After 12 years in the industry, this change in hindsight now seems natural, but it took some not-so-evident reflection.

You see, I had an issue for despite gaining more and more opportunities and acknowledgement for my product work in larger and more prestigious companies, I was not happy.

This unease befuddled me, my husband, my friends, my family, and the random barman I would sulk to.

Me in my short stint as the lead singer of my dad’s rock band.

If you look back at my life and professional career as a series of iterative experiments, as far as advancement, all would point towards not pivoting.

After all, only now, Product Management is really getting the acknowledgement and the solidification that it deserves. Now companies are finally waking up. They are hungry to define and fill these types of postions with better compensation and recognition.

But only money and advancement matters, right?

It depends. For some people, “Yes.” That is fine, but reflecting back again, obviously as someone who gave up everything to restart her career in “salary-poor” Paris, money is not my greatest motivator (though it is nice… I am not a robot and need money for cheese… my greatest “why”).

Really what is not to love? This cheese did this on its own… in ambiant room temperature.

So after doing further self-retrospection and the activities above, I realized of all my experiences I was the MOST happy when it was facilitating team growth and product vision, but not necessarily orchestrating it.

When teams were more efficient, autonomously delivering better quality and were happier, I was happier.
When companies lost in the woods discovered the product vision they had been searching for thanks to my advice or facilitation, I felt found.

You see, despite my titles not reflecting it, I did amass five years experience helping teams transform whether as a manager, teammate, or agile advocate within the company. While often this was a side goal given to me or for which I volunteered, I started becoming known for my Agile expertise. In fact, in my last position they hired me expressly as a Product Owner whose first mission was to complete the Agile transformation and advocate for new ways of working.

Here is another cheese photo to break it up a little.

So now, after all these experiments (and I have changed jobs often), what rose to the surface naturally? It was this passion to facilitate the growth of others. I would have never come to this conclusion without wiping the slate clean, including the red-herring that was my past goal of product management upward mobility.

Flush Out Your “Idea of You” as You Grow

There is no perfect answer or perfect life “test”.  Here is a great TED talk by Ruth Change about making tough life decisions for inspiration. What is important is to move forward and cultivate an attitude of self-introspection.

Not sure how to put your past non-professional ‘happy’ experiences to work? Leave a comment. Have you made a leap recently? Share your own story.

Are you now a pilot?

Meanwhile, I will keep you all up to date with my own journey.

The First Agile Baby Step Is Inwards

When it comes to big new life changes, I am as guilty as anyone in my need for premature optimization, meaning my first instinct is to not start before all is ‘perfectly’ planned… sometimes so that I never actually start.

Paralyzed, I want to change in a big WATERFALL kind of way where everything is planned out and all items implemented at once.

But then I shake myself a little, say a few choice words in the mirror, and step forward in an agile, iterative, and most importantly, reflective way.

Because the first step is the most important.

Not HOW you do it. But JUST the fact you do it.

So, the first step for transforming your business towards agile is … ?

The same goes for transforming your business, project, team, etc. to begin using ‘agile’ methodologies. It is a big company culture change! You must resist implementing all at once. When I am ranting on about how much I adore agile, I am quite often asked :

Okay, but how do I implement it? Where to start?

There is a glimmer of fear in their eye as they reach for their coffee or beer (Yes, I ramble on about agile outside of work… often.)

CC Alvaro Perez
Copyright Alvaro Perez

This question is hard to answer without meeting the team and knowing the particular intricacies of the project and the overall production needs. In addition, it is best not to prescribe too much as it really depends on the team’s unique DNA and what THEY want to do first (Yay, autoorganization!)… as top down rarely works with these kinds of changes.

The first step I often recommend and one of the easiest to implement (once the team is convinced) is putting into place: “Retrospectives” or “Retros”.

What is a Retro?

A retrospective can take many forms and often should change and adapt with the team over time (if not to add some spice). The overall idea is the team gets together to reflect upon:

Since the last retro…

  1. What went well?
  2. What could improve?
  3. What are some solutions?

Then two or three of the solutions are collectively chosen and teammates volunteer to follow these points until next retrospective. After all, we can not change Rome in a day! Here are some ideas for retro formats.

How often and who?

Depends on your team! Typically retrospectives are at the end of the development cycle for development Scrum teams.  I suggest conducting retrospectives at least once a month for non-development teams, especially in the beginning.

Oh, that is right.  I suggest retrospectives on all levels. It is not just the developers that produce, so why not spend that valuable time improving on all levels?

You have multiple product owners? Do a scrum to scrum retrospective! Do a company wide one! Marketing team one! All levels will profit from regular introspection, though the time intervals and format will vary depending on the scope.

The key is though to not turn retrospectives into ‘diss’ fests against people or teams not present. This should be watched for and any point involving those not present should be noted and taken up in the next retrospective including them or by their manager in private. If it is solely a personal conflict then it is best discussed between the two people involved.

In addition, I am a big advocate for having mixed profiles in the retrospectives including managers. BUT it is important that the managers exercise listening and letting each person, especially those naturally timid, feel free and safe to express themselves.

Much like brainstorming sessions, the participants must freely be able to communicate their ideas and thoughts. Only later when you vote on the most important solution upon which to work , should there be a HEALTHY debate on the pertinence.

Here is the kicker: You have to actually do it for it to work

Now over the years of seeing various companies/projects/teams transition to agile, one of the biggest stifling factors has been cutting off open communication or not prioritizing it. For example: just filing away retros as “another meeting”. This I have found especially true for non-sprint organized teams.

Ug another meeting?
Ug another meeting? Meetings have been hated since well before 2016.

“Ahh… well I have so many meetings… so much to do. Do we REALLY have to have our retro? Didn’t we just have one? I would appreciate it if we could push it off… I have this [INSERT DEADLINE] coming up.”

Respond, “No, sorry. It is important.”

Hey, secretly, you may even want to cancel it! It takes time and energy to communicate openly and establish healthy channels to do so. But giving that loving push to yourself and others to keep to the retro routine is important.

Trust me; of all the times my teams have wanted to cancel the retrospective… Where people grumbled, “Well, what do we really have to say to each other? We talk a lot already.”… those OFTEN turn out to be the best retrospectives. People leave smiling and feeling loved because they took the time to improve themselves and their team, vent their frustrations and find solutions.

Pro tip: Bring candy. People love candy. Or ask people to volunteer taking turns cooking or purchasing food to bring. Food = love, commitment and yumminess. Plus, it gives the team a sense of ownership. They will want to be at that retro so that they did not bring food for nothing!

4751483994_fbfd158921_o
Copyright Lottie

But why?

Well other than the free candy… In your agile transition or project life you may not always make the right decisions. The first steps may be off path, BUT if you bake in moments of reflection, you can easily fix these mis-steps and learn from them. Turn them into an investment and not a loss.

So no crazy long, overly optimized roadmap of how to transition to agile is necessary.

CC CP Ewing
Copyright CP Ewing

Just start by talking with each other.

Just take that first step and keep at it and the rest will eventually fall in line.

 

Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.

But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.

Free Internet in Paris

That’s a keyword phrase for ya!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
  1. Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
    Library Locations (in French)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times.  Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
  4. Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one.  They are always crowded so no porn perusing!

Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
  1. Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available.  If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
  2. Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use.  Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
  3. FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers – FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things.  In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
    You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
  4. Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
  5. Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft.  There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
  6. Coworking Spaces  – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch.  They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank,  La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup.  While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
    – You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add
Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.

Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract.  I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.

C’est la vie. – S

Now where were we? – Paris Life – Season 4?

[Insert another Blog start opening blurb]

Introducing my newly branded (rough-draft) and moved expat blog (albeit in potentially perpetual beta mode). Really only the logo design is done. ;p

oooo look at that logo
Translation: American Flowers in Paris

First you must know that the Learning Machine, still exists but will be solely be professional or nontravel/expat ramblings. While this new little niche shall be my hide out for all the things I find fit to share in my growth as an American abroad in Paris.

While I have not been writing here for months now… I have been digesting and figuring out life in Paris.  It has been a labor of love which I am becoming ready to share.  So we will see how these little writings will make their debut to the world and how often.  But we might as well get started.

Carpé journée.

Life Update

Now where were we? Season 3, looking back at the archive.  I have now been amid what I would consider Season 4 for quite a while.

Austin is in a new job.  We have moved at least two times since last time I wrote, now living in upper 11th of Paris or lower Belleville neighborhood.  We were able to take our first real vacations in years, traveling to the Mediterranean and Sweden.

Stockholm was pretty - August 2013
Stockholm was pretty – August 2013

I took a professional pause to work on my French and some personal projects (including a non-profit dance exchange in Paris which welcomed over 200 dancers from around the world). And now I am back on the “find a job I can be passionate about (preferably in French)” train. Going well despite I decided to board this train in the summer time a.k.a. unemployed deadman’s land.

Still I am optimistic and have been talking with a couple exciting companies that hopefully I will get to announce in the coming months once the living return to Paris.

Overall life as an expat (especially in the last month) has semi-smoothed out, especially due to my gained proficiency in French, seeking stability and simplifying my commitments.

And of course we love Paris more than ever.

Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)
Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)

Though we have not had electricity for the past week and a half… but that is a post for another time.

After School Special

What have I learned so far this Season? Let’s make this semi-educational.

EXPAT LIFE LESSON #121: Hey man, you are already an expat… do not take on the rest of the world as well.

Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.
Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.

Simplify, delve into your new life and concentrate on some (read: not all) positive and productive activities!

Because this is not your past life, you have a new obligatory hobby: Figuring out a new culture, language and way of life.

Until the next post – S

 

 

Ode to My Husband – Love Nest Abroad and Some Fish

Love Expats Style

Some might say that moving aboard can be the worse thing you can do for your relationship.  Or really any major move or life change is tough in a four-legged race… let’s be fair.

For me it has been the best thing I could have done.  As I now appreciate my husband more than I could ever express in a silly little blog rambling.  I am learning to trust in him, see him for the man he is and not take him for granted, not even for one second.

I am so ever grateful that I made this move with Austin.  He is my constant (Lost style ;p).  Life abroad is not all travel, cheese and ease.  I have my down moments of self doubt where I cannot tell the paperwork from the oak trees.  But he always seems to find me no matter how low I get.

301795_10150908522578286_923767118_n
Harry and Sally Meets Good Wine

We had worked together before but moving to a 27 square meter apartment, working at the same long hour jobs (two now), teaching dance together (in french) and relearning to how to live (french style) definitely has been a challenge.

294734_10100565175605402_6778280_n
Our first real apartment in Paris.

I have now reached the point where I see my fellow expats leave, those that came around the time we came (my “expat class” as I call it).  It is sad though we all have our reasons.  Some came planning only to stay a couple months.  Some have found better opportunities. Some just do not like it. And Paris is definitely not a city to stick with if it is not the right fit.  I am not too sure I would still be here if I did not have Austin. (And a few dozen friendly french strangers and friends a like).

Had to keep your head low in our little studio.
Had to keep your head low in our little studio.

We definitely have progressed greatly since our arrival in Paris, in our temporary 17 square meter apartment or when the machine ate my credit card on the first day.  We have progressed enough so that I can fondly look back at some of our earlier now-funny struggles.  I will not say we have stability now but we are gaining comfortability… and we have come a long way.

And I am glad this has been a partner marathon.

Thanks

Austin and I moved to France 6 months into our marriage and 5.5 years into our relationship.  For those who know our wedding date (the binary for 42), you know we love Douglas Adams and our wedding abounded in references to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

74210_957658093350_6500828_n
Shot near Notre Dame from our honeymoon visit to Paris. Where we continued to fall in love with each other and this city.

Today I stumbled upon a reading that I had to share and my relation to it.  It is a mix between how I felt: the first time we kissed, at our wedding and during our first year in Paris (in the apartment where you could barely swing a cat).

Enjoy and Thanks Austin.

From Douglas Adams’ “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”

There was a sort of gallery structure in the roof space which held a bed and also a bathroom which, Fenchurch explained, you could actually swing a cat in, “But,” she added, “only if it was a reasonably patient cat and didn’t mind a few nasty cracks about the head. So. Here you are.”

“Yes.”

They looked at each other for a moment.

The moment became a longer moment, and suddenly it was a very long moment, so long one could hardly tell where all the time was coming from.

For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone long enough with a Swiss cheese plant, the moment was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a cramped and zoo-born animal who wakes one morning to find the door of his cage hanging quietly open and the savanna stretching gray and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new sounds are waking.

He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly wondering face and her eyes that smiled with a shared surprise.

He hadn’t realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones until it now said something it had never said to him before, which was,

“yes.”

– S

And Meow For Something Completely Different

First Watch This

Done?  Okay good… Now read this.

Bask in the glory that is a video of a cat meowing the theme of a popular tv about dragons and stuff.

Now bask in the fact that you have this opportunity at all… the internet (for those lucky enough to enjoy it) is the pinnacle of luxery and awesomeness.  And basically free vs the amount we pay and what we gain from it (though some would argue hours of funny animal videos on demand has no intrinsic value).

Still we do important stuff on there as well… like further technology, humankind and stuff.

It is an invisible omnipresent “box” of awesome.

What would Maud think?

I sometimes wonder what a person from the middle ages would think about the internet… Let alone just as far back as my late grandfather Dido.

“You mean you spend hours on a magical box which has the power to calculate the meaning of life ? But is used mostly for living pictures of cats meowing songs from another magical box called a TV (and naked pictures)?  

Now excuse me, I need to go survive the bubonic plague…”

What will I think?

What further farcical inventions will our children invent? Can’t wait…

I took the liberty of illustrating the future for you… You are welcome. Introducing “Meow-wavesTM”

“You mean a tentacle that you suck onto your left elbow which transfers smells to your shoulder (how we will smell in the future) so that you may fully enjoy the gelatinous laser cats puppetshow (and naked pictures)?

Now excuse me, I need to go survive the NEObubonic plague…”

Excellent – S

P.S.

Also required/related watching (unless you hate swearing or are at work). Love Louis CK.

The relaxation amongst the nonrelaxation and a typical French dinner

A quick update

The last four months have been hectic stressful to put it mildly.  I must say the 2nd year is proving to be harder than the first, luckily I feel we are emerging from the worse of it. Or as Austin and I joke… “Presque y la ‘.  Almost there…  (That is the joke. Also that is improper French…)

 

Almost there… this time.

 

Now as the smoke clears so does my vision and I realize I am stronger and more resistant than ever (like a flu strain ;p).  The first year it was a funny dream not a reality.  Second year you realize the work you really have to establish yourself.  And you get to it! Though sometimes round about…

We are more in love with this city than ever and determined to make it work.  Our french has drastically improved.  And so has life. 🙂

The importance of just sitting

So part of what I have learned in my time in Europe…

Learning to just sit… and relax… quality time.   Sure during the day all is crazy and chaos. But especially at night I have spent more hours than ever in my life around a table… drinking, laughing, talking, eating and eating some more. No TV, no computer, just each other.

Tartiflette… this be mountain food

Especially in Paris, the café culture of sitting on a terrasse (café patio) and philosophizing with an apèro (pre drink) is amazing, though not always great on the wallet. ;p  Luckily “happy-hour” borrowing from the english term is also popular.

Or in the case of summer time: “pique-nique” and laughter on a bridge, along the seine, in the park.

Picnic on the Seine
Paris Shoreside à la Seine with a good friend and one legged man

This is where relationships are formed, movements made (impressionism for example) and smoking habits are procured!  Plus, odds are it’s a bit too tiny in your apartment for guests… In a way this is the Parisian form of the American sitting on your porch with a beer, chewing the fat and watching the grass grow (if we had a porch or grass).

The Average French Diner

Is long.

I have gotten used to scheduling at least an hour and a half for dinner, but have surpassed this up to three plus drinks.  This is something that I got so used to that upon returning to the US, I was stressing over having a 1 hour dinner with friends before an event as I thought it just wouldn’t be long enough.

  1. Apèros – a Kir (sweet wine), a martini rouge, a small beer or perhaps a Ricard (licorice old man drink).  Sometimes drinks come with some olives or peanuts so you don’t pass out.
  2. Ordering – Order all in one go (barring digestif and dessert).  Most places offer a formule or formula where you get a better price on the culinary gauntlet you are about to run. At this point you order a carafe or bottle of wine.
  3. Entrées – A small dish such as a hard boiled egg and mayo, some paté with bread or escargots
  4. Plats – Main dish usually soaked in butter plus some raw protein
    Austin ready to eat a whole lot of cheese… This is Raclette a main dish from the mountainous regions. Yes, that is a big melting slab of cheese.

    Yes… he and our friend whimped out at the end. But still… he ate his head’s weight’s worth.
  5. Cheese platter? – It could happen.  Cheese is for afterwards to nibble on.  Just be sure to cut the cheese correctly and respect the rind to cheese ratio!
  6. Digestif – a shot of liquor or coffee.. or both

    Digestif after math
    Digestif aftermath
  7. Dessert – Usually combined with the last step
Follow up drinks are possible… See a pattern here?
Aftermath from one of my favorite French family dinners I had.

Dinners in Italy can be even longer…

I am not the best but getting better

I can’t say that I am the best at relaxing… A constant planner with wheels always turning am I!

But with the help of long dinners and new found friends I am learning to sit back and laugh at the day.

And this is the essence of Expat-hood.  

No one country or person has it all figured out.  But often it takes a move and a new perspective to really learn more about yourself, where you come from and where you are setting out next to explore (because seriously who actually knows where they are going?)

To the moon next! Or Mars… In Vars Summer 2012

Strong Better Slower Frencher – S

[REVIEW] Cosmopolis – Digested and Respected

And now a review of Cosmopolis because a status on my Facebook was not enough…

I have been watching a lot of movies lately thanks to my handy dandy UGC card. And afterwards I have been reviewing them very briefly on my facebook wall (I am lame). I tried that with David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis… but it was just too difficult. So much to say… It’s that kind of movie.

I honestly am not very well versed in David Cronenberg’s style/movies as I am pretty sure this is the first one I have seen. So this perhaps will be a useful to other Cronenberg philistines like me.

Enough of that… Quick! Plot Synopsis! Go!

Eric Parker (Robert Pattinson) is a young billionaire tech/financial/genius guy. It’s not a very good day for him as his life spirals out of control.

The movie is artfully and of course purposefully, based primarily in Parker’s limo.  He is among but withdrawn from the people, sealed off with cork so that he does not hear the outside world… much. Parker meets with the people in his life as he slowly is driven to go get a hair cut.

Also, it is a commentary on Capitalism.

Weird huh?  It is.

See it!  Or not…

Cosmopolis is a mind meld or a mind “f***” to be crude about it. As I am told it is typical Cronenberg style, as the king of venereal horror (fancy talk for body/mind horror).

Cosmopolis is not a normal “enjoyable” movie, though you may find it enjoyable.  The trailer will trick the masses into seeing it (as it makes it out to be some cool action/NINesque music video flick) but the masses will not enjoy it.

Even in France, a nation known for dry drawn out movies and polite patient audiences, there was a mass exodus in 15 minute intervals. At least 10% of the people left.

But even if you do not enjoy it… I argue you should respect it.  It is an exercise of the mind. Something not so enjoyable for those who went to the movies for escape (after all we have plays and books for thinking!)

In fact, it feels very much like an esoteric play, especially given the style of acting which is wooden like a poorly rehearsed play.  But I can only assume Cronenberg wanted this from his actors.

Very dry. Very disconnected. At first very alientating… but in the end perfect for the reality of the film.  Because that is what it is… disconnected “slice” (I cringe to say that cliché) of realities on either ends of the economic scale.

How to enjoy this film

You will hate this movie until you accept its weirdness.  Like the main character Parker, you must observe the passing world.

And afterwards you may find yourself needing to “digest” the film. Austin and I walked home instead of biked just so we could discuss it.

Digest it, think about it afterwards, bring a friend so you may discuss it later: but during it, just hang on to each word and observe.

The acting… did Pattinson sparkle?

Robert Pattinson… was really good in it, or maybe the “plasticness” of the acting style necessary for this movie fit his style of acting. Actually though it made me want to check out his following flicks.

I must say I found myself impressed with his bed eye acting style (well really… perhaps “romanced by it” is a better turn of phrase).  I understand why the girls swoon.  He has sexual magnetism even when getting an anal check up (pretty good scene actually!) or hugging a big burly black man.

On other actors not named Pattison

Some really grade A acting overall: intense and funny at parts.

You get to know the characters in passing… there is little to no explaination and you may fall behind if you do not pay attention to the nuances of each line… it really is a quite unforgiving film.

You may not even realize who the characters are until well after they are off screen.

But still the characters, each basically in their own strange vignette as they come into contact with the main character, are interesting and on the whole very well acted.

I especially enjoyed Paul Giamatti‘s (though usually he is not my style) and Samantha Morton‘s performances.

[ELITISM ALERT] And another thing…

After reading some reviews… this is going to sound really bad. But if you think this movie is poorly constructed, its probably because you didn’t understand it… And this probably threatened you.

You don’t have to love or even enjoy this movie but you should respect it.

So in the end?

I have convinced myself the more I think about it… I really enjoyed the mental exercise that is Cosmopolis.

I dare you to try it – S

The Unconventional Naturally “Spicy” Salad

My need for lightness + veggies + balsamic vinegar + SPICE (PUT SPICE IN ALL THINGS!) lead to….

 

Spicey Salad of the Gods
Unconventional Naturally Spicy Salad of Wonder!


This salad was invented by my husband and actually only has one conventionally “spicy” thing in it (can you spot it?).  The rest are veggies that just naturally have that zing.  Not only is this salad intellectually and thematically interesting.. but its tasty too!

 

Ingredients/Steps for One Serving

 

Basically cut up and add to a bowl in this order… AS PER USUAL: I no good at this measurement thing… so best judgement is need.

  • Two handfuls of Roquette (Argula) – (WOW, the english wiki has nothing on roquette… So here is the french one, look at the pretty pictures) Mixed greens can be substituted if necessary.  But roquette has a zing that completes the salad.  Edit: Thanks, Cliff!  It’s called Argula in the states.
  • Cubed half of a tomato
  • 1/8 of an onion sliced – Three slices about
  • Handful of julienned radish – Small red ones or large white one
  • 1/4 julienned zuchinni (optional) – Not sure if this adds anything but it was in my fridgerater and hence in the picture above. Just more greenery! Sliced cap mushrooms are also a nice neutral complement.
  • 1/3 cup cubed feta (optional) – Optional only if you want to save some calories.  OTHERWISE ROCK THAT FETA! I like the basil, olive oil soaked type… but any will do!
  • 1/4 cup Hot wasabi fried peas (optional) – Okay, not really optional. Because they are awesome. But I suppose you can save some calories again by cutting them out.   I prefer the spicy wasabi ones but you can get them non-wasabi’d.
  • Dress with 1 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsps of balsamic vinegar – I actually like to use the olive oil from the jar feta. 🙂
  • A couple dashes of ground pepper on top – Do not even bother if its not fresh ground pepper.
So voila!  The radish, onion and roquette are “spicy” or zingy naturally.  And with the crunchy spicy wasabi peas, balsalmic and ground pepper on top, they are perfectly complimented.  It is a simple but very satisfying salad!
To be fair though, I find celery spicy. – S

Seven Tips For Keeping Creative While on Deadline

Creativity is for hippies… and well everyone else as well.

In my previous post (“Ode to the Art of Product Development.”), I waxed on the artsiness of product and UX development.  Still these professions are not always treated so.  Often there is a trap that even I fall into, where we expect that anyone can plan/layout a site as long as they understand user experience concepts or the product goals. And that when the site moves to the graphic designers, that’s when the real artsy magic happens.

 

But it takes some serious problem solving, inspiration and creativity to lay out a site in a logical, readable, attractive manner that supports the product goals and suits the target market’s needs.  This especially can get difficult with more “tool” like websites that must be easy to use for a variety of different workflows.  Or for those in product development, discovering that perfect product or “tool” for your market.

Glad I never worked in a place like this...

 

Knock Knock. Mr. Deadline who?

 

But we don’t have time!  Deadlines press on us and the world turns!  And often we try to set a time limit on the product and UX design process.

Sometimes an hour is not enough...

Marty Cagan speaks about this in his book Inpired: How to Create Products Users Love (a must read for web professionals even if you are not a product manager recommended to me by the awesome Mr. Tim Rosenblatt).  I feel that this conundrum of needing to meet deadlines but allowing time for creativity  effects all areas of the web development process including UX design, marketing and software development.

 

Following are some tips that help me when on deadline and needing to work quickly and creatively… Applicable to all though I may tend to write from a product/ux/consultant point of view.

1.  Research Should Not Be Sacrificed

No matter how snap the decisions have to be made: do not let it snap your necks.  As in, take the time to do SOME research, even if you have to timebox it to a short period of time.  This research can be as simple as searching the internet for inspiration.  All your decisions need to be informed, and being more informed will in the end give you more ideas, helping with your creativity. Best yet, giving you informed ideas! 

2.  Keep Open

 

While working under pressure do not let that limit you (easy to say, huh?).  Maybe you won’t have time to wireframe out all your pearls.  But atleast start by listing or sketching out all your ideas before pursuing one.  As with research, to ensure you stay on deadline be sure to timebox your brainstorm session.

What is key is to not judge these ideas right away.  The biggest poison to creativity is closing yourself off by judging prematurely.  SURE the idea may be stupid at first, but if you have a little time to follow the thought process out you may arrive at a golden solution. And if you train your brain to judge your ideas immediately, you shut yourself off from fully utilizing its creativity.  Meaning, less ideas come out when you blockoff pathways.  Also, when you move on to picking the key ideas you will pursue, you still have a list of ideas to fall back on.

3.  Keep Focused Via the POWER OF LISTS

 

 I. Love. Lists. As anyone that knows me… well, knows.  YES keep open but at a certain point you need to hone in (or clear the clutter of your frantic mind).  The best way to keep your priorities straight is to have lists. Make a list at least of your top product goals (or other goals if you are not a product manager).  Also a clear list of feedback is good, when reviewing your solution for a 1st,  2nd or 3rd time.  Try to keep these lists short though… even with feedback, try to boil it down to key points.

Now you have these lists, use them.  When you get lost, refer back to them and center yourself.  Another reason why for product manager’s personas (<– click there to read all about the magic of personas) are key!

 

4.  Digitally Brainstorm, Save Trees, Save Time

 

For the first three tips you could do this on paper.  And for sketching that is often the fastest unless you have a tablet and software skills.  But for the rest, try to do this using google docs, a word processor program or a awesome list software like WorkFlowy.

Why? Because when the time comes to present your ideas, spec your ideas, etc, you already have them typed up.  Clean them up and VOILA.  Saves you time from parsing your scribbles on paper and transcribing them for that power point. Yay, for copy and paste!  In addition, those brainstormed ideas are digitally saved for later.

5.  Feedback early and often

No one likes to waste their time (or your client’s, colleagues, etc).  You will find when you are working close with your client (maybe even in the same room) you will move faster.  Or if this is not a client situation, your teammates, test user, etc. Like in a game of Marco Polo, you need to get feedback often or you may hit into the wall of the pool opposite from your target.

For those who have not played Marco Polo. Basically you close your eyes and flail around in a pool trying to tag your friends. When you call "Marco", they must respond "Polo", helping you find them.

Do not do get feedback via email – if possible.  Even if you have to arrange an impromptu, walk over to your client/boss/colleague’s desk for advice or video skype meeting, be sure not to waste your time writing up some big email just to get quick feedback.  Also that way you can see their reaction first hand and quell any worries on their behalf.

6.  Feedback as Inspiration

 

To continue the last tip’s line of thought, you need to strike a balance between showing people your product too early and shutting them off from you following that train of thought and getting the feedback you need.  This is especially true for consulting… and I could write a whole novel on this. So while I encourage early feedback, do take some time to fully explain your idea and make it clear this is just the beginning of the baby’s life.  Depending on the client, you will have to find the sweet spot, where early is not too soon.

What is important is, do not let feedback/judgement stymy your creativity.  Take it as a challenge/new aspect to design around and not necessarily a reason to move on immediately.  Feedback is not a final deathtoll and is is just a reason to reflect and adapt your idea.  At points you do need to give up the ghost on an idea, but the first negative feedback should not be the death rattle.  And starting over should be avoided especially when on deadline, unless with more feedback you realize its a deadend.  Even then parts and main concepts learned for your idea should be salvaged (thank you Mr. lists).

7.  Take a break

 

When especially frustrated… take a walk!  Bounce a ball against the wall!  Or if you cannot rip yourself from the computer, just peruse the internet for inspiration.  Something as simple as searching for your key goal words in google images, to see what comes up.  Work smarter, not harder.

 

 

 

 

GO TO YOUR HOME!

 

So in summary, the above tips are for creativity when in a pinch.  There are of course more tips necessary just to ensure you MEET your deadline. Such as avoiding the dreaded feature creep beast.  But that is a post for another time..

 

Let’s end with a laugh shall we?  This is what I think about every time I cannot figure out where to place an item while wireframing:

You too good for your home? – S