Mentoring: This is What It’s All About

It’s the kind of letter you always hope to get–some evidence of making a positive impact on a young employee’s career.

In this case, he was fresh out of college and I hired him to be an editorial assistant for a regional magazine group. He was probably there less than a month when I was up against a deadline for our annual food issue–with no cover story. I took a chance and assigned it to him, and he nailed it. I’ve never seen a story about french fries tackled with such sophistication.

I received this thank you note last week after writing recommendation letters for his MFA applications.

It not only made my day week month, but it inspired me to reach out to some of the managers who made a big impact on my career.

Because when it comes to being an editor/manager/employer, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Not feeling so shiny and new? Tackle this list.

With all this talk of the new year and fresh starts, showing up to the office today made me feel squirrely. The leftovers of pre-holiday office bustle glare against the January sun, and it’s time to take action. Once I charge through this list, I’m going to buy myself a new notebook and focus on my vision for 2011. Ah, Zen.

1) Update all passwords. Dig up passwords to the sites I can never log in to (that means you, EZ Pass). Add everything to my beloved Keeper app. Add license plate numbers and other important account numbers while I’m at it.

2) Update projects sites and remove stale people. We have a ton of outdated people on Basecamp–clients who no longer work for their former company, vendors we no longer work with, etc. Time to clean house and make room for new partners.

3) Manage email filters and subscriptions. Late last year, we migrated to Gmail for Business. I love the filters–all my newsletters skip the inbox and go straight to the Biz Newsletters folder. But based on the 406 unread newsletters in that folder, I think a better use of my time/inbox space would be updating my Google Reader and unsubscribing from 99% of my newsletters.

4) Do a massive paper purge. Before I transfer all our 2010 paperwork to those tax document storage boxes my bookkeeper orders for me, I’m going to scan and shred as much as possible. You don’t realize how much paper you have until you move offices (like we did last year). Paper clutter is a huge mental weight for me, and I want to get rid of it. Ditto for all the project folders hogging valuable space in my filing cabinet. They are all digitized and backed up–I don’t need paper copies, too.

5) Ditch vendors or services that aren’t working. For us, that means our payroll company, who insists on sending us gigantic stacks of paperwork 2x a month and acts as if we owe them the world for sending us PDF statements. Among other annoyances big and small. Switching payroll is one of those pain in the ass tasks, at least mentally, but there’s no time like the new year to tackle it.

BONUS POINTS: Block out vacations for the year. I’m determined to spend 10 days in Salt Spring Island this summer. So I’m going to put it on the calendar and make it happen.
(Not familiar with Salt Spring? Check out “What It’s Like Living Here” from my dear friend Carrie Cogan.)

–Britta

Friday Photo Essay: What’s the Best Photo You’ve Ever Taken?

“A few well-chosen stories might be just the thing to get everyone to put down their Blackberries and join the conversation.”
Storytelling for User Experience

Photo by: Britta

Where taken: Connecticut

Camera used: Sony Cybershot

It was the last summer before we all had babies. Eat Media was less than a year old, and we took the business “on the road” for the month of August. This was our first stop: our friends’ lake house in Connecticut. We would work until 4pm or so, go water skiing and then go back to work. This photo captures the freedom we felt that summer. The freedom to invent the business and the life we want.

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Photo by: Wendy Joan

Where taken: The Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar, India

Camera used: Sony Cybershot

I spent most of 2007 living in Pondicherry, India, with eight rowdy American girls and one French guy. That May, three of us travelled more than 1,700 miles north to Amritsar. Shortly after arriving, I quickly snapped this photo outside the gates. The sun was shining straight in my eyes and I couldn’t see a thing. We spent the next few days exploring the temple and Punjabi countryside before heading for the Himalayas. I so close to Pakistan I could have touched it through a chain link fence, and would have done so if the border patrol didn’t have such big Kalashnikovs and so much ammunition.

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—Wendy Joan

Every Day is (a) Revolution

“Time” and “tracking time” are very different things. Seconds aren’t real. Neither are minutes. Neither are hours. The only real thing is a day – one rotation of the Earth about its axis.

—Every day is a revolution. Suit up to communicate, fight for change or make peace.

Professor Philip Zimbardo talks about: The Secret Powers of Time.

—Ian

Friday Photo Essay

I’m on a mission to keep August Fridays interesting. What better way than with a little story?

Share your own tales from the city.

—Wendy Joan

Walking through downtown Minneapolis
I’m wondering why we
are most ourselves
in the least amount of space.


My heels have healed
from an unfortunate new pair of shoes
and I’ve snuck
half an hour away.

I turn corners and
cross at red lights,
pretending to lose myself
even though I know where I am,

inventing personalities for avenues

and side streets

and fleeting glances
from people who interest me.


I am in love with the urban—


the hot dog cart apprentices

and saxophone players who persevere
through old reeds and pocket change.

No Bad Clients

I just listened to a presentation by the super cute and wicked smart Liza Kindred from Lullabot. Presenting at DrupalCon San Francisco last April, Liza gives us a peek into Lullabot’s company’s structure, core beliefs and business strategies. You can listen to the full presentation, but here are some highlights:

1) Make mistakes.

Lullabot prides themselves as an awesome place to make mistakes. When an employee made a terrible data error, co-founder Matt Westgate told her, “You made a giant mistake, and you really screwed up here. That is why you are now Lullabot’s data import expert.” The company also bought her a massage.

Environments where people can’t admit mistakes become very hostile and dishonest work environments.

Fess up to your mistakes. Make them a highlight of your weekly team calls.

2) Room for stupid.

Smart people can ask stupid questions. “Take your stupidness and help other people become less stupid.”

3) Give it away/Have faith

Find out the awesome things you do and give it away. (But not all of it.) Have faith that by giving it away, you are making the pie even bigger.

Out-teach. Out-share. Out-contribute.

(Props here to 37Signals)

//

But one of my favorite parts was how they select clients.

When a potential client comes to Lulllabot, they need to meet 2 out of the 3 criteria:

1) They are a nice person.

2) They have a healthy budget.

3) They have a fun project.

“And one of them has to be that they are nice.”

How’s that for a rule to live by?

–Britta

Top 10 Things We Love About The New Eat Media Office

Top 10 Things We Love About Our New Office

1)  An easy 20 min drive to Union Square or a 30 min express train to Grand Central Station.

2)  In person collaborations with our outrageously talented network of freelancers are more frequent.

3)  The orange couch fits, barely.

4) From our window, we can see the Hudson River/Palisades, the NYC skyline and the remarkably kind Parking Control Officers.

5)  The Hastings-on-Hudson train station sells superb coffee and pastries from Balthazar.

6)  Seth Godin is our (supposed) neighbor. (We have begun The SethCount to document sightings. Current count = 2.)

7)  There are no chain or fast food restaurants in the entire village of Hastings-on-Hudson.

8)  Commuter watching/Not commuting.

9) Our office used to be the extended dining room for Buffet de la Garethe top rated French restaurant in Westchester County.

10) It’s New York not Florida.

*Bonus 11) The volunteer Fire Alarm siren always adds a little auditory pizzazz to conference calls.

—Ian

Confessions of a Continuing Education Junkie

I’m a continuing education junkie. Ever since college, I’ve had a goal of taking at least one class each “semester.”

That worked out especially well when I was fresh out of school and working in advertising in NY. The options were endless, and my company footed most of the bill. I took portfolio-building classes at School of Visual Arts, teaching English as a second language at New School for Social Research, fiction classes through Gotham Writer’s Workshops, summer writing sessions at Sarah Lawrence. I took Susan Shapiro’s legendary “How to Write for New York City magazines and Newspapers” at the New School (she started the class by handing out a three inch thick stack of articles her former students had published as a direct result of taking her class. Talk about a selling point). Then I tried online courses—creative nonfiction through Naropa Institute, travel writing and a bunch of others through MediaBistro.

When the market tanked and I got laid off, I did what any reasonable person would do—I let the government lend me money while I got a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction. (And surprisingly, I use the skills I gained from that degree every single day.)

In the past five years, I’ve been too busy rebuilding a 1920’s cottage, growing a business and having babies to take classes. These life ventures have commanded all my research hours. But I’m happy to say I’m back on track, and this time I’m taking something I’ve never done before.

Tennis.

I am a complete tennis novice. The first day of class, I felt like a ridiculous tennis bunny imposter walking out of my house in my little getup and the racquet I dug out of the basement slung over my shoulder.

I’m such a novice that one of my hour-long lessons consisted solely of my instructor trying to show me how to throw a ball straight up for a serve. “Put the ball in your fingers like this…” My excuse for this pathetic lack of ball manipulation skills is that I was never allowed to do sports or dance or art in school because I was so busy kicking ass on the violin. But anyway.

In today’s lesson, after the miserable faux pas of whacking the ball into the players’ court next to mine—FIVE TIMES, and getting run ragged by a set of forehand topspin/backhand drills, the instructor left me with a little gem.

“It’s never about your opponent,” he said. “It’s only about the ball. Once that ball crosses over to your side of the net, it’s about what the ball is going to do, and nothing else. All you have to worry about is getting that ball back over the net.”

As I drove back to my desk all revved up and flush-faced, thinking about the challenges I needed to solve before picking up the little ones from school, that line really sat with me.

It’s never about the opponent. It’s only about the ball. It’s about getting that ball back over the net with the best form possible—no matter what condition it was in when it landed in your court.

—Britta

Lent: What One Content Vice Would You Give Up?

There’s something intriguing about giving up a vice during the 40 days of lent.*

And while some people take the easy way out (liver and onions) others take the high road and give up chocolate. Or cheese.

Which got us thinking–if you had to go on a 40-day content fast, what would you give up?

Here’s a sampling of “chocolate and cheese” sacrifices from those in the office who were brave enough to answer:

Jonathan

As a news junkie who visits dozens of sites on a daily basis, my top 5 toughest sites to let go of for a month would be:

1. New York Times — It may not be making enough money, but it’s still the most comprehensive and best news site on earth.

2. Huffington Post — The design is a wreck, but it has plenty of compelling content.

3. Extra Mustard — Sports Illustrated’s offbeat sports site. Hilarious.

4. My seasonal niche sports site. In winter, it’s Ski Racing; in summer, it’s Velonews.

5. Apple’s movie trailers site. I love movies, and trailers are about all I have time for these days.

Wendy

Facebook. As a chocolate and cheese sacrifice, rather than liver and onions. Would I be out of the loop after 40 days? What kind of information would I be missing? I’m interested how much “knowledge” I get from Facebook–am I subconsciously or consciously getting local and world news from Facebook via status updates, updates from family up north, or is Facebook just feeding me things I don’t need to know, and aren’t important to me in the big picture of existence?

Ian

Techcrunch. Checking NBA scores. Hearing the sweet voice of Pomplamoose on You Tube.

Britta

Saturday mornings would feel empty without Apartment Therapy and Ohdeedoh.

Even a week without Amazon.com would suck. I’d have to say yes when my local bookstore clerk says “Sorry, that title’s not in stock, but we can order it for you!” And there wouldn’t be any brown paper packages to greet my return home.

My Google homepage. Because between Google Reader, New York Times most emailed, CNN.com, weather and the current moon phase, I can stay reasonably plugged in without working too hard at it.

Miller

Print newspapers. This is not a liver and onions sacrifice. I am actually one of those old fashioned types that reads three (!) print papers every am. Seriously.

–Britta

P.S. Eccentrics (and those who smack them down) won’t want to miss this article from the March issue of Inc. magazine on the Wexley School for Girls.

*When it comes to religion, we here at Eat Media take no sides and welcome all.