reality check…for college grads

Eleven years ago when my daughter decided not to pursue a college degree, opting instead to train for a career in ballet, I had to do some mighty fancy footwork of my own in order to convince my husband that she had the talent and passion to succeed. It helped…a little…that her conservatory high school instructors supported her decision. After all, ballet is for the young at heart…and bodyIMG_0442

The fact that our daughter was lauded for her potential in all the summer dance programs in which she participated was also very encouraging. Her first summer away from us…ever…at the age of 14 was to Banff, CanadaBeing awarded a scholarship to return  the following summer probably clinched the deal in my husband’s eyes. Wow! Even the Canadians recognized a rising star, or so we doting parents liked to think.

Instead of returning to dance in the Canadian Rockies, however, our budding ballerina decided to accept American Ballet Theatre‘s invitation to their summer intensive in The Big Apple. I mean what kid isn’t going to prefer…candy to rocks?…the rat race to mating elks?… Times Square to isolation?

Truth be told…my daughter wishes she’d gone back to Banff. The training was better…the ratio of dancers to teachers was better…and the cost was way less. But hey! You win some…you lose some. But you always…move forward.

In the grand scheme of things, however, our daughter’s won…big time!

An 11-year dance career (and counting) is no small feat!

As long as our daughter’s passion and body hold out…she’ll be dancing…until “the fat lady sings.”March 2011A 00095

Meanwhile, it’s ironic…and devastating…to learn that college grads are having difficulty finding jobs these days. The following Wall Street Journal editorial reminded me of their plight.

Sorry, College Grads, I Probably Won’t Hire You

by Kirk McDonald

Dear College graduates:

     The next month is going to be thrilling as you cross this major milestone in your education. Enjoy the pomp and circumstance, the congratulations, and the parties. But when it’s all over and you’re ready to go out into the world, you’d probably like to meet me, or others like me–I’m your next potential dream boss. I run a cool, rapidly growing company in the digital field, where the work is interesting and rewarding. But I’ve got to be honest about some unfortunate news: I’m probably not going to hire you.

     This isn’t because I don’t have positions that need filling. On the contrary, I’m constantly searching for talented new employees, and if someone with the right skills walked into my office, he or she would likely leave it with a very compelling offer. The problem is that the right skills are very hard to find. And I’m sorry to say it, dear graduates, but you probably don’t have them.

     In part, it’s not your fault. If you grew up and went to school in the United States, you were educated in a system that has eight times as many high-school football teams as high schools that teach advanced placement computer-science classes. Things are hardly better in the universities. According to one recent report, in the next decade American colleges will mint 40,000 graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, though the U.S. economy is slated to create 120,000 computing jobs that require such degrees. You don’t have to be a math major to do the math: That’s three times as many jobs as we have people qualified to fill them.

     It’s time to start addressing this crisis. States should provide additional resources to train and employ teachers of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as increase access to the latest hardware and software for elementary and high-school students. Companies–particularly those like mine that depend heavily on information technology–need to join the effort by sponsoring programs that help schools better train graduates to work in a demanding industry. But there’s one more piece of the puzzle that’s missing, and it’s the one over which you have the most control: you.

     I realize that you’ve a lot going on, and that the pressures of finding gainful employment are immense.  But understand this, because your future might very well depend on it: If you want to survive in this economy, you’d be well-advised to learn how to speak computer code.

     I don’t mean that you need to become genius programmers, the kind who hack into NASA’s computers for fun. Coding at such a level is a very particular and rare skill, one that most of us–myself included–don’t possess, just as we don’t possess the athletic ability to play for the New York Knicks.

     What we nonexperts do possess is the ability to know enough about how these information systems work that we can be useful discussing them with others. Consider this example: Suppose you’re sitting in a meeting with clients, and someone asks you how long a certain digital project is slated to take.

     Unless you understand the fundamentals of what engineers and programmers do, unless you’re familiar enough with the principles and machinations of coding to know how the back end of the business works, any answer you give is a guess and therefore probably wrong. Even if your dream job is in marketing or sales or another department seemingly unregulated to programming, I’m not going to hire you unless you can at least understand the basic way my company works. And I’m not alone.

     If you want a job in media, technology or a related field, make learning basic computer language your goal this summer. There are plenty of services–some free and others affordable–that will set you on your way.

     Teach yourself just enough of the grammar and the logic of computer languages to be able to see the big picture. Get acquainted with APIs. Dabble in a bit of Python. For most employers, that would be more than enough. Once you can claim familiarity with at least two programming languages, start sending out those resumes.

     So congratulations again on your achievement–and good luck getting your real-world education.

Mr. McDonald is president of PubMatic, an ad tech company in Manhattan. Previously, he was president of digital for Time Inc.

Just the other night hubby and I were talking about his having to replace his administrative assistant who decided to leave to pursue other interests. The foremost requirement he cited in her replacement was…computer proficiency. Everything else is secondary.

Looks like I won’t be applying. Now if communicating were the priority…yeah, right!

My daughter’s love of dance motivates her to continue training during the summer months when her ballet company is on hiatus. (Most companies are off at this time.) Her feeling is…and I agree…that she needs to keep honing her skills…to keep challenging herself to be better.

How do you remain relevant in your career? Keep learning. Learn everything within one’s power so that you can do what you want…for as long as you want…and hopefully…

Four Financial Tips for College Grads

…get paid what you want…(oh well, two out of three ain’t bad)…

………hugmamma.

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“freddie the leaf, the fall of”

The only author I can wholeheartedly call my favorite is Leo Buscaglia. Otherwise, I select books according to their subject matter. But I’ve enjoyed reading every one of  Buscaglia’s books. A postscript to one of my favorites, reads:

“Leo Buscaglia approached life with joy and enthusiasm. He pursued a path of perpetual learning that took him to places of wonder, excitement, and enlightenment. His sense of urgency to live life now and explore all that is possible was contagious to all who knew him. His life was dedicated to the single concept of ‘Love’ and all the beautiful and positive elements that it encompasses. …He died of heart failure on June 29th, 1998, at his home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada at the age of 74. A note was found on his typewriter the next day. It read, ‘Every moment spent in unhappiness is a moment of happiness lost.’

In 2004 I was in Chautauqua, New York, visiting my daughter while she danced in a summer program. Browsing through the bookstore housed in a charming building, I happened upon “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” by Leo Buscaglia. Tucking myself away in a corner, I read it. A lump formed in my throat for the story was written to assuage a child’s loss of someone special, to death. The book, in its 20th edition, is a “beloved classic that has helped thousands of people come to grips with life and death.” I’d like to share it with you now, in the hopes that it might someday do the same for you.

Spring had passed. So had summer. Freddie, the leaf, had grown large. His mid-section was wide and strong, and his five extensions were firm and pointed. He had first appeared in Spring as a small sprout on a rather large branch near the top of a tall tree.

Freddie was surrounded by hundreds of other leaves just like himself, or so it seemed. Soon he discovered that no two leaves were alike, even though they were on the same tree. Alfred was the leaf next to him. Ben was the leaf on his right side, and Clare was the lovely leaf overhead. They had all grown up together. They had learned to dance in the Spring breezes, bask lazily in the Summer sun and wash off in the cooling rains.

But it was Daniel who was Freddie’s best friend. He was the largest leaf on the limb and seemed to have been there before anyone else. It appeared to Freddie that Daniel was also the wisest among them. It was Daniel who told them that they were part of a tree. It was Daniel who explained that they were growing in a public park. It was Daniel who told them that the tree had strong roots which were hidden in the ground below. He explained about the birds who came to sit on their branch and sing morning songs. He explained about the sun, the moon, the stars and the seasons.

Freddie loved being a leaf. He loved his branch, his light leafy friends, his place high in the sky, the wind that jostled him about, the sun rays that warmed him, the moon that covered him with soft, white shadows.

Summer had been especially nice. The long hot days felt good and the warm nights were peaceful and dreamy. There were many people in the park that Summer. They often came and sat under Freddie’s tree. Daniel told him that giving shade was part of his purpose.

“What’s a purpose?” Freddie had asked. “A reason for being,” Daniel had answered. “To make things more pleasant for others is a reason for being. To make shade for old people who come to escape the heat of their homes is a reason for being. To provide a cool place for children to come and play. To fan with our leaves the picnickers who come to eat on checkered tablecloths. These are all reasons for being.”

Freddie especially liked the old people. They sat so quietly on the cool grass and hardly ever moved. They talked in whispers of times past. The children were fun, too, even though they sometimes tore holes in the bark of the tree or carved their names into it. Still, it was fun to watch them move so fast and to laugh so much.

But Freddie’s Summer soon passed. It vanished on an October night. He had never felt it so cold. All the leaves shivered with the cold. They were coated with a thin layer of white which quickly melted and left them dew drenched and sparkling in the morning sun. Again, it was Daniel who explained that they had experienced their first frost, the sign that it was Fall and that Winter would come soon.

Almost at once, the whole tree, in fact, the whole park was transformed into a blaze of color. There was hardly a green leaf left. Alfred had turned a deep yellow. Ben had become a blazing red, Daniel a deep purple and Freddie was red and gold and blue. How beautiful they all looked. Freddie and his friends had made their tree a rainbow.

“Why did we turn different colors,” Freddie asked, “when we are on the same tree?” “Each of us is different. We have had different experiences. We have faced the sun differently. We have cast shade differently. Why should we not have different colors?” Daniel said matter-of-factly. Daniel told Freddie that this wonderful season was called Fall.

One day a very strange thing happened. The same breezes that, in the past, had made them dance began to push and pull at their stems, almost as if they were angry. This caused some of the leaves to be torn from their branches and swept up in the wind, tossed about and dropped softly to the ground. All the leaves became frightened. “What’s happening?” they asked each other in whispers. “It’s what happens in Fall,” Daniel told them. “It’s the time for leaves to change their home. Some people call it to die.” 

“Will we all die?” Freddie asked. “Yes,” Daniel answered. “Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die.” “I won’t die!” said Freddie with determination. “Will you, Daniel?” “Yes,” answered Daniel, “when it’s my time.” “When is that?” asked Freddie. “No one knows for sure,” Daniel responded.

Freddie noticed that the other leaves continued to fall. He thought, “It must be their time.” He saw that some of the leaves lashed back at the wind before they fell, others simply let go and dropped quietly. Soon the tree was almost bare. “I’m afraid to die,” Freddie told Daniel. “I don’t know what’s down there.” “We all fear what we don’t know, Freddie. It’s natural,” Daniel reassured him. “Yet, you were not afraid when Spring became Summer. You were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?”

“Does the tree die, too?” Freddie asked. “Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life.” “Where will we go when we die?” “No one knows for sure. That’s the great mystery!” “Will we return in the Spring?” “We may not, but Life will.” “Then what has been the reason for all of this?” Freddie continued to question. “Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?”

Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, “It’s been about the sun and the moon. It’s been about happy times together. It’s been about the shade and the old people and the children. It’s been about colors in Fall. It’s been about seasons. Isn’t that enough?” That afternoon, in the golden light of dusk, Daniel let go. He fell effortlessly. He seemed to smile peacefully as he fell. “Goodbye for now, Freddie,” he said. Then, Freddie was alone, the only leaf left on his branch.

The first snow fell the following morning. It was soft, white, and gentle; but it was bitter cold. There was hardly any sun that day, and the day was very short. Freddie found himself losing his color, becoming brittle. It was constantly cold and the snow weighed heavily upon him. At dawn the wind came that took Freddie from his branch. It didn’t hurt at all. He felt himself float quietly, gently and softly downward. As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. How strong and firm it was! He was sure that it would live for a long time and he knew that he had been a part of its life and it made him proud.

Freddie landed on a clump of snow. It somehow felt soft and even warm. In this new position he was more comfortable than he had ever been. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. He did not know that Spring would follow Winter and that the snow would melt into water. He did not know that what appeared to be his useless dried self would join with the water and serve to make the tree stronger. Most of all, he did not know that there, asleep in the tree and the ground, were already plans for new leaves in the Spring.

The Beginning.

Having purchased the book as a keepsake for my daughter, I turned to the first blank page and penned the following inscription.

Summer 2004

Dearest daughter,

I discovered Leo Buscaglia in Chautauqua this summer. Reading his  words was like looking at my soul through a mirror. He wrote, and lectured about, and lived a life of love, always having a positive attitude. “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf ” continues Buscaglia’s outlook thru to the final stage in life. 

 Live each day to the fullest, love hugely and passionately, strive always to have a positive attitude toward yourself, others and life. These are what I leave to you, when I fall from the “Tree of Life.” And I know you will do the same for your children, when your turn comes.

I will always be with you in spirit until we are together again, where all leaves spend eternal springtime together. Think of me as your “Daniel.”

All my love, forever…Mom

my sentiments for you, as well…hugmamma.

journal tidbits

Two items in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye this morning,  “Gene Shows Promise for Alzheimer’s”  and  “Family Blames AIG In Bet on Mom’s Life.”  The first article provides a speck of hope; the second sets off a red flag,  “buyer beware.”

“Scientists have found a way to dramatically reduce the erosion of memory and learning ability in mice with a version of Alzheimer’s disease, potentially offering a new approach for tackling the illness in humans.”  MIT researchers discovered that a genetically engineered gene, SIRT1,  “regulates the production of a class of proteins known as sirtuin one.”  More sirtuin in tested mice allowed them to retain both memory and learning ability as they aged. GlaxoSmithKline PLC’s consultant Dr. Leonard Guarente,  “a biologist at MIT and the lead author of the study,”  suggests this may be a drug-based approach to treat Alzheimer’s. However  “Much more research is now needed …” according to The Alzheimer’s Society in the U.K.

The article further indicates that resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine, has been found to slow aging in mice. This seemed to affirm the intake of grape seed supplements recommended by Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, a practicing neurologist, in his  “The ANTI-Alzheimer’s Prescription.”

whatever works!…hugmamma

“A dispute over a huge life-insurance policy on an Indianapolis woman who drowned, fully clothed, in her bathtub took a new twist this week when her family alleged American International Group, Inc. ran a  ‘scheme’  to let investors buy big policies on older people as speculative bets.”  Reading this I was reminded of a TV documentary exposing just such a scam. How does it work?

An insurance entrepeneur encourages an elderly person to purchase a huge life-insurance policy, often paying for it with a loan. The policy is then sold to an investor who pays the premiums and collects, when the insured dies.

In the reported case the entrepeneur expects to be paid the $15 million involved, while AIG wants the policy declared null and void. A spokesman claimed AIG  “stands by its allegations that the policy was procured under a  ‘fraudulent scheme.’  ”   The victim’s estate is seeking control of the $15 million, and filed suit for $45 million in damages against AIG claiming they ” ‘engaged in minimal underwriting efforts’  and issued the $15 million policy, ostensibly for estate planning,  ‘without verifying key information,’  including whether Ms. Tomlinson could afford such costly insurance.’  ”  The article continues  ”  ‘Even a cursory review’  of various application materials would have raised red flags about…annual income, but AIG…turned a blind eye…to warning signs in eagerness…reap enormous benefits,…’  ”

“buyer beware!” …hugmamma.