Don’t trap yourself with the bridges you burn

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Control your breaking point

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 27, 2016

Oh, the satisfying feeling of completely destroying something—like a relationship—that you don’t want to be a part of anymore. Whether it be romantic or professional, leaving something is never easy. Sometimes it happens through mutual understanding, and other times it occurs as a tug-o-war, pulling until the tether that binds yourself and your counterpart snaps.

There are many articles and forums out there discussing the positives of burning bridges. One reason offered is so that you will never have to return to that place, be if physical or emotional, ever again. By severing your ties completely, you can only look forward and not back. It’s always tempting to go back to a comfort zone, even if the comfort zone is most often uncomfortable, and at times painful. Many people who break up from a relationship find themselves back together again, going through the same turbulence as before—but the turbulence is comforting because it is familiar. Sometimes burning the bridge is the only way to move on.

By burning the bridge with your former employer, you can almost be certain you would not have to end up in that shitty job again. However, while this practice might have been true, and perhaps advantageous, in previous years, it is not anymore. When you burn a bridge with a company, you don’t just burn it with the boss, you let the entire team down. People talk and they will talk about your tactlessness and your true colours. You let pride get in the way of your job.

It’s a small world out there and people aren’t fixed to one job anymore. While you’ve left your previous employment in a smoldering mess, others might have exited graciously. These people might even be your former boss. These people might cross paths with you again—odds are they will, if you stay in the same career path.

The next time you decide to rip your employers and/or co-workers apart before exiting into hellfire, remember that you are not making any grand statement. You are trapping yourself into a persona. Whatever attributes you obtained during your employment will be erased. You will be the loose cannon who wouldn’t compromise.

If you have a choice, which you always do, you should choose to take the higher ground and bow out with class and dignity. Nobody will feel sorry for you or congratulate you for burning bridges and posting about how you stuck you middle finger out at your superiors on social media. Nobody cares about you if you don’t care about others.

Yes, burning bridges will help you eliminate options you don’t want, but it’s like a wildfire: you might destroy some opportunities you desire in the future. You cannot control how other people will view you after such destructiveness. You cannot stop people from being wary of you. You were a bridge burner. What’s to say you won’t do it again?

The Freedom to Work

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How to Take Control of Your Nomadic Lifestyle
Originally published on Medium.

There has always been this negative connotation to the phrase: “Taking work home with us.” It’s as if the act of working is a burden to our lives. It’s as if our unfinished assignments are keeping us up at night. It’s as if our profession is harming those we love and ourselves.

I like to believe that while some of us work to live, many of us live to work. Our professional accomplishments are not just our livelihood; they’re a part of our identity. Sure, our jobs bleed into everything else we do, but that doesn’t mean we are shackled to the desk, or that we have to omit time with friends and families to meet deadlines — and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we have to miss an episode of our favorite television show just to send a last-minute email.

Yes, work is home with us, it’s in the car with us, it’s on the airplane with us, and it’s turning down our hotel room beds when we are at an out-of-town conference. No longer do we need an alter ego for the work we have. Ourwork follows us around because it is something we are proud of, something we want to share, and something portable that we can manage in a coffee shop in Los Angeles or a bar in London.

“Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or what’s the fastest way to do it… think ‘what’s the most amazing way to do it?’” — Richard Branson.

Get A Life

A high school bully once told me to get a life after I finished talking about all the novels I’d read and how I wished I had more time to read more. Life? What the bully didn’t understand was that his values — video games, aggressively loud music, and misogynistic jokes — did not align with mine. Because he hated reading, he assumed I was flawed for enjoying it. How we spend our lives is up to us, not some argumentative bully.

At times, it can feel as though a job can become this bully, telling us that our camping trip is less important than the next deadline. It is and it’s not. When I use the word freedom, it does not mean doing anything whenever we want. Freedom comes when we are able to control and prioritize our work, interests, and, of course, life accordingly. Why shouldn’t we be able to have a three-day weekend if we hunker down and got the job done on Thursday? Why can’t we bring our work on the road trip when we know we can accomplish it in the hotel after the drive? Why must we drag ourselves so early into the office just to lounge around sluggishly?

For every quality worker in our area there are probably hundreds of equally talented people who are scattered around the country. Most aren’t willing to just pack up and leave their lives. Work has become mobile, but many other things aren’t. If you want to attend a prestigious school, go for it. If you want to take up a new hobby, do it. As long as you find the time to work, the sky is your limit. And don’t let bullies tell you otherwise.

“Self-employed people work where they live. Entrepreneurs live where they work.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Make Time For Office Hours

I’m not your boss so I’m not going to tell you that all your work should be done remotely. I’m also not telling you to quit your job to become a travel writer — although that would be pretty cool. I’m saying that we don’t need to be centralized anymore to accomplish significant tasks.

Still nothing that matters happen in a vacuum. Good things can be done independently, but world changing, disruptive innovations are often collaborations between talented people. So take that into consideration. Although email, instant messaging, Google Drive, Skype, and other digital/telecommunication tools have connected us together, there is still nothing more important than face-to-face real time conversations.

Communication with four people in the room is hard enough, but communication with 10 people in message thread is just pure chaos. In a global survey, 67% of senior execs and managers believed that their organization was more productive when superiors communicated with employees personally. Emails, instant messaging and all the other technology slows down the decision making process. Passing the conch around might work, but when a problem needs to be solved, meet in person.

Understanding when it is appropriate to take the conversation offline is probably the most important aspect of working remotely. Sure, the work will get done through the cyber networks, but there is nothing that nurtures camaraderie and team bonding like face-to-face problem solving and celebrations.

“You think you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s only some bugger with a torch bringing you more work.” — David Brent

Home Is Where Your Work Is

There are countless distractions when you are working out of the office. After all, the world is a beautiful place; it’s hard to stay focused when your desk is beside the window or when you are one click away from YouTube. So needless to say, the most important aspect of working independently is self-discipline.

Without supervision, it becomes ever more important to be entrenched in a project you are actually passionate about. If you aren’t motivated to get up in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, and sit down and actually work, perhaps home is not the right environment for it. Working at home might be convenience but sometimes good work happens in a less ideal environment. Many people who live in apartments with fitness facilities don’t actually use them. It doesn’t matter if its convenient, what matters is if you find it meaningful.

After all, what’s worst than waking up to an undesirable workload, already waiting for you at the foot of your bed?

“To get GoPro started, I moved back in with my parents and went to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I wrote off my personal life to make headway on it.” — Nick Woodman

Work’s A Beach

We’ve all had this romantic fantasy of bringing our work on vacation with us. We’ll be by the pool, soaking up the sun, and catching up with our assignments. Approximately 60% of US employees have worked while on vacation. While it might be worth an attempt, working and relaxing are separate entities and even though you love your job and the scenery, you can’t enjoy both at the same time.

In 2013, I had an opportunity to escape the early spring rain of Vancouver and visit Brazil. While I choose to limit my workload, I still had a few assignments stored in my carry on for me after I landed. With three weeks aboard, the job needed to get done. No excuses! So I had to treat the work time as sacredly as I would treat my flight’s boarding time.

I split up my work schedule. In the mornings while everybody was milling about getting ready for the day, I’d check my email and tackle the less stressful tasks. Then I’d disconnect completely. There is no place for work on the beach or on a scenic hike to a waterfall. In the afternoon after the excursion, I’d find a quiet spot, plug in and work a bit more while some took naps and others started pre-drinking or preparing for dinner. Truth was, I didn’t miss much while working. In fact, I made money while on vacation. It didn’t pay for everything, but it was rewarding.

“If you live for weekends or vacations, your shit is broken” — Gary Vaynerchuk

Take Control

How important is your work?

Is it more important than a text message from a friend? Is it more important than your favorite sports team making playoffs? Is it more important than your high score in Candy Crush? Probably. So treat it as such. If you can respond to your flaky friend cancelling a dinner date with you last minute, you should be able to respond to a fraudulent payment. You should be able to notify your team about a large successful transaction. You should be able to see your company’s analytics on the go and make actionable decisions on the fly.

Control, a mobile app dedicated to supporting the nomadic lifestyle of modern day entrepreneurs, artists, and business managers. The app utilizes the API of mobile payment platforms (i.e. Stripe) and enables users to track transactions, manage payments, and ultimately take full control of their company anywhere in the world.

Many of us want the freedom to live and work simultaneously; Control is a tool that flourishes on this idea. Start your 14-day trial with Control today and see where it’ll take you.

When networking isn’t working

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Why your networking opportunities are a waste of time

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 11, 2015

Remember the last school day in high school when you, your classmates, and everybody else gathered in the foyer to sign yearbooks? Remember how you tried to accumulate as many signatures and H.A.G.S. (have a great summer) as possible? Remember how empty that feeling was after? That is how I often feel when I go to networking events.

Ask any working professional and they will tell you that networking, at some point, contributed to their success. But where and how they network? That they seldom share. I’m far from a successful professional, but I think I know when my time is being wasted. My time is being wasted when I’m not making any genuine connections. Like those speed-dating events that people do to find romance, I feel that same way with attending networking events in search for employment. If there is no connection in five minutes, I slowly start sneaking away.

If you approach a networking event for your sole benefit, i.e. employment opportunities, you’ll ultimately fail. Rarely are employers hiring at these events, and if they are, you entering their lives spontaneously and then disappearing a few minutes later will not go far in influencing them to hire you. Instead, approach a networking event with an additional purpose. Ask yourself: What would I like to learn at this event? Product development? Marketing strategies? Sales tactics? Whatever. Rather than showing off your smarts and woefully impressing people who don’t care, gain knowledge by communicating with those who have more experience than you.

One thing I found really useful at a networking event was to have a project going in. If I had to report on the event, what where the topic be? What can I wrap my story around? Let’s say I was at a tech-startup event (I’ve been to a lot of those), I could write about the hardest aspect of building or working at a startup company. Then I probe, I interview, I meet people who work at those companies, and I asked them the question: “What’s the hardest thing about working at a startup company?” I’m gaining knowledge. I’m getting results. At the end of it all, I have a collection of interviews and maybe even an article with knowledgeable insights. What I decide to do with that post is up to me. I can share it via my own network and up my Klout score, I can keep it for myself, or heck, I can send it to those who I have interviewed and see if they would be interested in the content. I have done more than network; I have made a connection. I’ve gone the extra distance and shown my spunk.

Networking events are a waste of time if you are collecting business cards. Business cards are worth less than Pokémon cards if you don’t reengage with the person. They’ll forget about you as quickly as you’ll forget about them.

Lesson learned

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What we should do with our social media accounts in the face of professionalism

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 4, 2015

When bodybuilder and middle school teacher Mindi Jensen received an ultimatum from her academic employers to either delete her workout/bikini pictures from her Instagram account or lose her job, it seemed like the whole world collectively rolled their eyes. Here we go again.

There was a time when I thought my teachers lived in the school after the bell rung and plotted our next quiz and homework assignments. While they might have been preparing the following day’s lecture, teaching was far from the only thing on their mind. Turns out, they do have a life outside of school and they barely thought of me after work—just like all people who make money during the day and go home to pursue their personal hobbies and projects in the evening.

Parents of all people should know that. So the fact that some parents approached North Sanpete Middle School’s administrators, the people in charge of Jensen’s career, and complained about the pictures on her personal account is a little appalling. The parents go on to claim that the images of Jensen were “inappropriate” and “pornographic.” Do those parents even know what porn is? Because I scroll through Instagram once a day and I never find “porn,” no matter how hard I scroll.

While it’s true that a professional working closely with children should remain decent on all platforms, it’s unclear where the line is drawn. Here’s how I see it: let’s say the teacher was a man and he had pictures of himself working out and in swim trunks—no!—Speedos. Would he get in trouble? Would the school board threaten to fire him if he didn’t take down those pictures? If that does happen, it doesn’t make the news. What is happening is oppression. What the parents are actually saying is: “You can’t show those pictures, because you are too pretty and you are arousing our kids. I don’t know how to discuss sexuality with them or explain that teachers are people too, with personal lives and aspirations, so I’ll just blame it on you, fit lady.”

At the end of the day, the school came to their senses, realized the legless claim the parents were standing on, and apologized to Jensen. But the question remains: how can we know if something is appropriate for the Internet or not? With nude and embarrassing pictures soaring this way and that through the air, we can’t be certain who would take offence. Therefore, we must go back to the rule of thumb: would we be okay if our mothers saw that picture of us? If the answer is yes, then share it. If no, then maybe it’s best to keep it in our private archives.

When it’s all said and done, Jensen will have a great lesson to teach to her students, one that stems from confidence and defending personal convictions. I think that’s a good lesson to learn in the social media age.

Isn’t it ironic

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How to deal with people who don’t understand sarcasm

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 6, 2015

There is nothing better than someone who doesn’t understand sarcasm. Nothing. If you can’t tell, which so many can’t, I was being sarcastic. I wouldn’t say my sense of humour is of the highest level. But I would say a lot of it relies on irony.

In many situations, sarcasm is classified as inappropriate behaviour, as if I’m acting out of line or to offend. I’m not. It’s just my unique way of dealing with an awkward or uneventful scenario. I love using sarcasm to lighten the mood, especially in a social gathering or workplace. Work can get awfully serious if you allow it to, but I won’t. So, when someone tells me to do something, I say: “Never, I won’t! You do it.” Of course, I’m not refusing to do my task; I’m merely making light of the task and their authority. I’m pretty much saying that neither you nor I should take our duties too seriously. I’ll get to the work as soon as possible.

People who don’t understand sarcasm are often those who take everything seriously. Yes, doctors, lawyers, and police officers shouldn’t be making jokes during their job, and that’s what makes them such wonderful satirical characters on television. But, in reality, not all of us have serious jobs—even school is not that serious when you actually think about it. Will anybody die if you don’t finish your project? Maybe your parents, who invested so much into your life, but nobody else. Nobody cares. So have some fun.

Sarcasm is a great way to break the tension. It’s like a little splash of cold water for those who are serious. Once they realize that my little jokes will not harm them or the task at hand, they tend to lighten up a bit. If they don’t, you probably don’t want to develop any further relationship with them anyway. Their life is probably a straightjacket. You want none of that.

Like strong spice or perfume, sarcasm should be used sparingly when the situation calls for it. Over time, you’ll be able to detect when you are in a situation where you can use it. It’ll show that you are carefree yet daring. Nobody likes a sarcastic douche that can’t take anything seriously, just like how nobody likes an uptight jerk that can’t take or tell a joke.

If you are meeting new people and you want to identify who is conversational in the dialect of sarcasm, present some irony in a group environment first. “Wow! I sure love vegetables at parties.” It really is like another language, and if even one or two catches your drift, they’ll continue the trend and you’ll have suddenly developed a new channel of conversation that isn’t as boring as reading a textbook. Communication should have flavour and sarcasm is a unique spice—and an acquired taste.

For those who don’t get it, luckily for them, they’ll learn. That’s the wonderful thing about languages: they grow on people overtime. As long as it’s presented in a harmless way that is also engaging, people will continue to speak it. According to Smithsonian magazine, those who are sarcastic are highly intelligent, even more than those who are always sincere. If you are able to back it up with hard work, class, and respect, you don’t have to worry—be sarcastic. Yeah, right…

Like a pro

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Why there is only one real measurement for professionalism

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. October 6, 2015

What makes someone professional? That is a question all up-and-coming employees want to know. They spend hours fine-tuning their resume, they buy a new wardrobe, they practice their handshake over and over, and they even show up 15 minutes early for meetings and interviews, but, in the end, none of that matters except consistency.

Being professional is not a switch you turn on and off when you are working. Being professional is an attitude towards all things, regardless if there is a paycheque at the end or not. The ability to treat every task—whether it’s finishing a report, communicating a business plan, or meeting a friend for lunch—with equal importance is what makes someone valued, and therefore professional.

There is nothing more prized in the workplace than an employee who is consistently accountable. If you say you’ll do something, it’s your job to make sure it is done. If you can’t accomplish the task on your own or in time, don’t feel bad. Being professional does not mean that you have perfect foresight.  And being accountable does not mean doing everything yourself. A professional needs to meet hurdles with competency, not expertise. When employers are hiring, they are rarely looking for specialists; rather, they are looking for those with the capability of asking for help when they need it.

If you think being a professional is being a perfectionist, working overtime, and straining over every little detail—like what to wear and what to say—then you will never operate at your fullest potential. The pros know that, given time, opportunities, and experience, skills will undoubtedly form and gaps will fill in. There is raw talent, sure, but in a workplace, repetition and routines rule, and learning a task and accomplishing it with consistency is often what makes you a pro.

Yes, you hate your job and you are finding it harder and harder to apply the same amount of enthusiasm you had the first few weeks after you were hired. I have one suggestion for you: quit. If you can’t apply consistency to your craft—and you should live in a world where every job is a craft, where improvement is as important as completion—you are harming yourself. If work ethic were a tangible object, you’d be smashing it into a thousand pieces.

You hear it every day: the job market is a scary, volatile place. Only the best get hired. That is not true, or in a way, only semi-true. When we think of the best athletes, we think of those who are consistently showing up to every game or tournament. They might be scoring goals, stopping shots, or just making par every time, regardless, you can always bet on them. When people look at you will they bet on you to succeed? Where’s your track record to show it?

Being professional does not start after you graduate or get your job or receive your first paycheque. Being professional starts the moment you wake up every day.

Do it for yourself

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Not volunteering does not make you a selfish monster

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. October 16, 2015

You used to do it. You used to commit your valuable time helping an event, an organization, or a cause. I know I did. I don’t anymore. I don’t volunteer, not because I’m busy, but because I recall that most organizations that don’t pay for labour are often disorganized, not so flexible, and ultimately lacking professionalism.

I have had bad experiences volunteering, and I believe many people have as well. But we dismiss all the bullshit because we want the goodwill, we want the work experience, and we want to participate and make a difference.

I’m not going to say that volunteering is a waste of time, because in the end, it’s up to you to define what your time is worth, and for you to decide how you would like to spend it. If you have a group of friends volunteering, you might love it—it’ll just be like hanging out. However, if you feel frustrated over the work or lack of communication, or that perhaps there is a high expectation for your role, be on alert.

There is a reason why unpaid internships are illegal now—it’s slavery. While as a volunteer you are there of your own free will, the organizers often make it seem as though they are doing you a favour. If you feel like you’ve been mistreated—whether by the leaders or your fellow volunteers—you can leave. There are literally a billion different ways to make a positive impact in the world, and many will even pay you to do it.

We live in a capitalistic society. If you are working for free, that means other people are working for free, and that is not fair for anybody. The least they can do is offer lunch or an honorarium. If an organization does not have a revenue stream, investors, donors, patrons, etc. why does it still exist?

Moreover, if we look at the world as a whole, we see many young adventure-seekers volunteering to build houses and orphanages in developing countries. Okay… cool… but those people don’t need some 20-something-year-old from Cloverdale to help them build shit. Give them material, and they can do it themselves. If you want to have an adventure, get a job, earn the money, and buy a plane ticket without interfering with other people’s lives. If you want to help build an orphanage in Cambodia, donate money and resources. Start a company that will hire local workers to do the job. Create a self-sufficient ecosystem, not one that nourishes your own self-righteousness.

Volunteering is not sustainable. Eventually you’ll have to eat. If organizations want help, they should apply for grants, have some marketing system, and have some incentive—it doesn’t have to be monetary, but it does have to be worthwhile. Volunteering is not for everybody, so before you think of someone else, think of yourself. You deserve your own precious time.