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A Remembrance – Mark Merenda

March 14, 2017

“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22

In many ways “Catch-22” was the cornerstone of my relationship with Mark Merenda. When we met in 1972 he embarked on a literary exercise to make me memorize sections of the novel’s dialogue, so we could recite them back and forth to each other. He was much better at it than I was, but eventually I became Orr to his Yossarian.

He was much more literate than I, and had the kind of memory  I could never hope to achieve. He was also brilliant, well read, opinionated, stubborn and a cad of the highest order – all of which made him my idol.

Mark Merenda circa 1972

Mark Merenda circa 1972

We met at our first jobs, at a small newspaper in Massachusetts where he was the sports editor and I covered one mid-size town. We became instant friends since we were among the only staffers who were not members of the  clan that ran the business. Like Heller’s Yossarian, it was us against them, and we were determined to keep our sanity by taking advantage of everything we could.

I lacked his self confidence, and  was never sure what he saw in me, but I accepted my role because he was everything I wanted to be. It worked out well for both of us, I got an education and he got a wing man. I could never really describe our relationship until many years later when the movie “Sideways” came out. We were a buddy movie before I knew what buddy movies were.

We had no business covering Boston’s professional sports teams, but as long as the Red Sox , Patriots, Bruins or Celtics would give us press passes and we did our jobs at the paper, we played the part of big-time sports media types. Mark was the writer, and I was the photographer, and we were both pretty good at our roles. He got to meet his idols and I got to get trampled by Dave Cowens, John Hannah, and almost beaned by Willie Randolf.  That’s the chance you take when you sit under the Celtics basket, along the sidelines of the New England Patriots, or in foul territory at Fenway Park.

Even Mark knew that his stories had more readers if there was great art alongside.

He was warm, dry and safe while I was often soaked and had a bad back from carrying camera equipment all over whatever field we had chosen to cover.

But I would not have traded the experience for anything, because it was really the post-event education that was the best part. After the game, we’d head over to  Cambridge where Mark and I set up shop in the bar, at either the Hyatt Regency or later the Charles Hotel. Both were target-rich environments for a young stud and his wing man. I was not very good at meeting women, but Mark was a pro and more often than not an hour or so after we arrived, he would glance in my direction and throw me the car keys so I could drive myself home in his MG.

I never asked how he got back home but I just marveled at  the show. The fact that he lived with a very nice young woman who had to put up with his behavior just made him seem more dangerous. I’m sure she knew, but was willing to put up with his behavior for the same reason I did. Every discussion with Mark was an education and just being in his presence made you feel better.

Mark could pretty much talk me into anything.. He would take me shopping in Boston, to Louis, the most expensive store in the city, and convince me that I ‘needed’ a $700 cashmere overcoat. It was a great coat, and I loved it, but I was almost afraid to wear it.

His brother, Guy, was trying to start a leather business so I ‘needed’ to buy a new briefcase. It’s still here in my office next to my desk.

No matter, it was just part of my role. The flip side was, what I have since learned, is what drew Mark to me: I could tell him what an ass-hole he was being. He knew, that I knew, that sometimes he was simply full of crap, and I would be brutally honest without messing up our friendship.

We grew to respect each other, covering news, and sports together learning skills that they don’t teach in journalism school.

We even started a magazine. It was mostly about sports and we were sure it was going to be our ticket to stardom, or at least untold riches. At least until our bosses at the newspaper decided it was a little too much like competition. Forty years later I still have a few copies and I know Mark did too, even though we only produced two editions.

The beginning of the end was like a scene from “Good Will Hunting,” when Robin Williams’s character misses what was, until 2004, the most famous event in Boston baseball history, because he “had to see about a girl.”

When my future wife,  had the audacity to claim Zelda Fitzgerald really deserved major credit for F. Scott’s work he refused to even debate the topic accusing her of “getting her facts from People Magazine.” To this day, she relishes the fact that history and research have proven her correct.

We got married three years later, after I had moved to Maine to manage a newsroom. I always thought Mark never forgave her for taking up the time he wanted. He never came to the wedding and I never expected that he would. I have no idea what he thought when he found out we divorced 5 years later.

I lost touch with him and his career and it wasn’t until 30 years later when I decided to become personal coach that we reconnected. Somehow I found out he was now in marketing, so I called to ask for help. He refused to accept any payment for developing my web pages and freely offered marketing advice.

We had both matured, and the youthful arrogance was tempered by life, and now he had hundreds of friends, clients and employee who depended on his wisdom  I never made it to Florida, as I had promised,  and we missed connecting on his trip to San Francisco where I now live.

We chatted off and on, and he even allowed me to do some freelance writing, when I restarted my writing career. I would send him sporadic texts when I visited my parents near Boston. Always making sure I stopped by our old haunts, so I could bore my new wife with stories from the good old days and text Mark a photo or two.

He would text back quotes from ‘Catch-22.’

 

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CWAA: No Interference Calls Here

February 7, 2016

Super Bowl 50 has turned San Francisco into a bit of a zoo, with crowds almost everywhere downtown. Businesses that are normally closed during the weekend have opened, and lost tourists stare at maps on every street corner.image

As season ticket holders, my wife and I were in town for the SF Ballet on Saturday.  During intermission the lady seated to my right introduced herself, telling me she was indeed another visitor to our city.

The New Mexico native explained that she was enjoying her Christmas present from her husband: a weekend in San Francisco. She chose the weekend and it wasn’t until she arrived that she found out why she had such a problem finding a hotel room.

She was good natured about it, saying they arrived Thursday night and had already been to the Symphony once and we’re going again after the ballet, and also went to a concert at the Jazz Society and we’re headed to the Palace of Fine Art before dinner at Greens, a favorite vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason.

A rather dizzying pace, but she asked if we had any other suggestions so I told her about several neighborhoods worth visiting via public transportation and suggested Golden Gate Park Arboretum was a ‘must see’ for a little relaxation.

When I asked her about the crowds she replied, “there are none.”

I guess the Super Bowl fans are more interested in the fake Super Bowl City hawking NFL merchandise, than any local culture offered by our City by the Bay. I wonder how many visitors will return home and tell their friends what a great time they had ‘seeing’ San Francisco.

But, we can all agree, at least one visitor enjoyed the real deal.

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CWAA: A Tipping point

January 25, 2016

I recently had lunch at a small hometown restaurant. They served various vegan alternatives, grass fed beef, and all organic vegetables.

But the menu is not the point. When the check arrived I noticed there was no spot for a tip but that an 18% service charge had been added.Unknown

As a San Francisco resident I’m aware of the national debate over tipping in restaurants.

In an effort to equalize pay between front of the house waitstaff, and back of the house cooks and other employees, many  larger restaurants are experimenting with eliminating tips.

This was the first time I had seen it in practice at a smaller business.

In my younger days I spent many hours working as a cook, dishwasher and  bus boy and am painfully aware of the disparity in pay. While the waitstaff is the face of the restaurant, they are dependent on the kitchen for the quality of the meal, the dishwasher to make sure everything is cleaned and the busboys to ensure table turnover.

The dining experience is a combination of everything, so why should the waitstaff be the only folks to benefit.

Minimum wage laws have tried to bridge the gap and have led to the latest version of experimentation.

So, when the waitress returned to collect my payment I couldn’t help but do  little market research.

“How long have you been a no-tip restaurant?” I asked.

“Two or three months,”  she said. “And?” I asked waiting for a diatribe on how much less she was making and how she hated the new system.

She surprised me with “I love it,” and went to explain that every week they get a full financial statement from the owners, explaining gross receipts, tax and expenses and an explanation of what they were receiving as pay.

“My pay is much more predictable, and while it’s a bit less than I made before the switch, as long as business overall is good, we do fine.” She said the most of the other staffers felt the same way and that she thought the kitchen staff was much easier to deal with, now that they had a direct impact on their own pay.

She then added that the most important factor was the openness of the owners to list the overall gross receipts and expenses and explain how the pay was calculated. “I can see how that might be a problem at other locations, but here they are very open, and we all know what’s going on.”

I wish the results at other restaurants had been as clear cut. And, from a management standpoint I doubt every owner would be able to be that open. But this was a small business with a stake in the community and their philosophy seemed to fit the spirit of the no-tip effort.

Can we all agree that all restaurants should adopt this system.

American restaurants should take a page from their European counterparts and professionalize every aspect of the dining experience. We would no longer have to agonize over what tip amount was correct and the the overall restaurant experience would be enhanced.

If everyone from dishwasher to executive chef knew that their pay was contingent on keeping the customers happy and ensuring a return visit we’d all be a lot better off.

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CWAA: Malheur and the Anti-Federal Insurrection

January 6, 2016

Filed under: observations,Politics,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 9:03 am
Harry Fuller, a friend of a friend,  who lives near the occupied Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon sent the following note yesterday.  I thought it was unique view of the whole mess. He’s an avid birder and very familiar with the site.
I can’t say I agree with all his comments, but we can all agree that the men occupying the Preserve do not represent the interests of most Americans.
Here’s Harry’s essay:

No change in the occupation of Malheur by self-styled militia, anti-federal activists.  So far no violence and apparently no property damage.  For birders this is a serious issue as it continues.  The watch tower where the armed men are on guard is a tower long used by nesting Great Horned Owls.  The owls should be nesting in the next few weeks.

Wildlife in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Wildlife in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge

The occupiers have vowed to begin working the land, whatever that means.  It certainly does not mean letting White Pelicans, Harrier, Black Tern, Short-eared Owls, White-faced Ibis and other locally nesting birds use the land without being disturbed…or even shot.

The long-term goal for this anti-federal movement is to take land away from the U.S. government and give it back to the states with the intention of eventually giving it to private individuals for profit.  Some private land owners do care and take care of wildlife.  Many do not.  Cattle ranchers, alfalfa and mint growers and energy companies are notorious for environmental carnage. Mint, cows and hay crops are major sources of ranch revenue in Harney County where this farce is playing out.  Great Gray Owls, of which I know something, cannot find enough mammals to eat in meadows trampled by sheep or cattle.  Many other species are also threatened by modern farm and ranch practices.   Monocultures of alfalfa, Douglas-fir or any other harvestable crop rarely provide rich habitat for birds and other animals.

President Theodore Roosevelt created the wildlife refuge system over a century ago because he wanted to be sure there would be animals to hunt.  There is no constitutional provision for refuges so Congress and a right-wing President could decide to give away or sell all the federal land holdings.  Or, more simply, they could simply cut the budgets of federal enforcement agencies so the U.S. becomes like so many African and Asian nations: big parks showing up on maps but with with inadequate patrols and lots of poaching of species doomed to extinction.  Not to mention to theft of trees, etc.

If the feds were to sell off their lands or cede them to the states, in some blue states there might be some effort to maintain open space and protect wildlife but in states like Nevada, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Texas the federal lands would almost immediately be turned into private preserves for making money any way possible.  To hell with the wolves, pronghorn and Sage Grouse.

Quickest way to destroy the refuge system: money.  Malheur NWR is over 170-thousand acres.  It cannot be maintained and patrolled by a couple men or a few volunteers.  It requires a real financial commitment.  At least equal to the cost of a couple of drones per year.  There are many in the Republican Party who would far rather have the drones than any wildlife refuge and all those pesky regulations that reduce somebody’s theoretical income from unrestricted exploitation of the land.

What began as the Sagebrush Rebellion has now become a centerpiece of rural western Republican dogma: get the feds out of our lives so we can ride ATVs, shoot deer and cut trees wherever we want.  Liberty uber alles.  A party that sees climate change as a myth and wolves as targets is not going to preserve refuges or even national park except as photos ops.  Now they would like to own one of the first condos on the edge of Grand Canyon?  Cheap at $2 million, free parking included.  Membership in golf club extra.Map-HLP-BAR

Most historians who pay attention to resource use consider the American national park system to be one of the great innovations of the 19th Century.  This anti-fed movement could theoretically make that all go away by ceding Yosemite and Grand Canyon back to local control.

One legal analyst today finally, directly drew the  link between this action at Malheur and the constant rhetoric from the NRA and pro-gun folks about the need to have armed militia to thwart supposed government tyranny. Well, these folks in this militia who hear from God what they are to do are there thwarting federal tyranny at Malheur in the name of all that is right and holy.  Give a gun to a nut and you have an armed nut.  This is libertarianism run amuck.  There is no sense from these people that there is a common interest in preserving the planet, the environment or other creatures.  They seem to worship private property as godliness.

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An NFL Photographer’s Tale

December 24, 2015

Filed under: Photos,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 5:08 am
Scientists who study the human brain like to point out that memories are the unique feature that sets humans apart from other creatures.

Mack Herron (42) and John Hanna (73)

Mack Herron (42) and John Hanna (73)

For  my radio show’s end of the year celebration I was asked to go through the list of folks who had passed away in 2015.
Among the famous and infamous on Wikipedia I found:
December 6, Mack Herron- American football player.
While his later life was apparently filled with drugs and tragedy, my singular memory of the diminutive running back for the New England Patriots, was him following blockers around left end, holding on to the jersey of Half of Fame guard John Hannah before they were both swarmed by the defense and rolled out of bounds into me and my cameras.
Some place in a collection of old negatives I have the photo, snapped just before the collision, but the memory – and fear – is as clear as day.

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Can We All Agree – 11/14/15 edition

November 14, 2015

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 6:30 am

 

San Francisco City Hall, lit in the colors of the French flag.

San Francisco City Hall, lit in the colors of the French flag.

 

Can we all agree that the carnage in Paris will bring the war on terror to a whole new level?

Somehow it seems obscene to include commentary on last night’s events in Paris with Donald Trump’s latest irrational diatribe, so I will delay my regular column of “Can We All Agree” until tomorrow.

We are all Parisians

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Can We All Agree – 10/3/15 edition

October 3, 2015

Can we all agree The President is correct – mass shootings in the US have become too routine?

Can we all agree that we lost any chance of changing gun laws when we watched 26 children and teachers be slain in Newtown, CT and did nothing?Capture12

Can we all agree that we would like our President to give Michael Douglas’s speech from “An American President?”

Can we all agree that Jeb Bush has once again put his foot in his mouth by explaining the Oregon shooting as “stuff happens.”

Can we all agree that while 140,000 jobs created in a month, may not be what some people expected, it’s better than losing jobs, and shows the economy is still on track?

Can we all agree that Vladimir Putin knows that as long as The West does not have a unified voice, he can pretty much do whatever he wants in Ukraine, Syria or anywhere else in the world?

Can we all agree it’s tough to attribute the bombing of a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz to the ‘fog of war.’

Can we all agree that the GOP can rail  about Mr. Obama’s response to Mr. Putin, but they don’t have any credible ideas?

Can we all agree that we continue to be embarrassed by the comments of the GOP field?

Can we all agree that Speaker-to-be Kevin McCarthy looks like he will fit right in with the GOP? Can we all agree he has handed the upcoming Benghazi hearing to Hillary Clinton on a silver platter?

Can we all agree that it does not bode well that Nancy Pelosi and Mr. McCarthy are barely on speaking terms?

Can we all agree that Mr. McCarthy’s reputation for malapropisms will give late night talk show hosts plenty of material.

Stephen Colbert, right, with bandleader Jon Batiste, left, and guest John Legend on CBS' "The Late Show." (CBS)

Stephen Colbert, right, with bandleader Jon Batiste, left, and guest John Legend on CBS’ “The Late Show.” (CBS)

Can we all agree that, as my friend Jim Levy says, Steven Colbert may be the only grown-up on late night TV.

Can we all agree that it will be less than a month before we all long for the good old days of Speaker John Boehner?

Can we all agree that Planned Parenthood actually gained more support after its president testified before Congress?

Can we all agree that the new budget bill passed by Congress just puts off a government closure until 2 weeks before Christmas? Happy Holidays everyone!

Can we ll agree that Donald Trump’s ‘tax plan’ just exposed him for what he is – a fraud? That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see him be the GOP nominee.

Can we all agree that Pope Francis needs to fire a few folks at the Vatican’s DC embassy for allowing Kim Davis to have even a group audience with him?

Can we all agree that the producers  of the movie ‘Martian,’ probably can’t believe their good fortune in the timing of news that there is evidence of water on Mars?

Can we all agree that despite Thursday’s deadline for the use of credit cards with electronic chips, there has been little change in how merchants handle credit cards in the US? Once again we are light years behind our European relatives.

Can we all agree that Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, has redefined arrogance as he defies calls from his own sponsors to resign his post in the face of a criminal investigation?

Can we all agree that the NFL should be very worried as more and more students opt for soccer over football in high school?

Can we all agree that the talent exhibited by the winners of this years McArthur awards is remarkable?

Can we all agree that, for baseball fans, the best part of the season starts on Tuesday?

 

 

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Can We All Agree – 8/8/15 edition

August 8, 2015

RepublicanDebate-slide-QF8U-jumbo

New York Times photo

Can we all agree that the GOP debate was the top  news and entertainment show this week?

Can we all agree that who won and who lost is probably dependent of who you were backing before the debate took place?

Can we all agree that, to our amazement, the biggest winner was not any of the 10 candidates but the three people asking the questions? They stayed away from some important topics, but at least they didn’t just lob softballs all night.

Can we all agree that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to care who he insults?

Can we all agree that the JV-debate beforehand was a waste of time?

Can we all agree that the divisions in the GOP were on full display?

Can we all agree that Jeb Bush was probably the real loser since he did little to separate himself from the rest of the pack? The fact that he looked stiff and unprepared did not help either.

Can we all agree that it’s a shame that we will not have a chance to get Jon Stewart’s take on the GOP show?

Can we all agree that we owe a debt of thanks to Mr. Stewart for showing us all how to be political cynics?

Can we all agree that it’s amazing there could be a two-hour debate without one word on income inequality, race relations, Citizens United or climate change? Just ask Bernie Sanders.

Can we all agree that despite the GOP predictions that we are headed in the wrong direction, an additional 215,000 jobs in one month is a pretty good direction?

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Can we all agree that the timing of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s announcement that he would oppose the Iran nuclear treaty was deliberate, probably in the hope that no-one would notice?

Can we all agree that the battle over the Iran treaty is far from over?

Can we all agree that the funding battle over Planned Parenthood may be the biggest red herring ever concocted by the GOP?

Can we all agree that it’s about time the administration took on the coal lobby over power plant emissions?

Can we all agree that there will be no winners in the ‘Deflategate’ controversy and that both sides have an interest in paying attention to the judge, and settling the case – quickly?

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Can We all Agree – 7/25/15 edition

July 25, 2015

Can we all agree that despite another gun attack on unsuspecting moviegoers, Americans will shake their heads and agree with candidates who say “Now is not the time to talk about gun control.” When exactly would be a good time?

Can we all agree that part of Donald Trump’s appeal is ‘decision fatigue.’ – the feeling we all get when we have too many choices and find it easier to  take the easy way out?

Can we all agree that the last thing Hillary Clinton needed was another headline talking about classified emails?

Can we all agree with a Federal Court ruling that families fleeing political repression should not be held in detention camps?

Can we all agree that, the crises in Greece is really the product of a long-standing class war between Northern and Southern Europe?

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds

Can we all agree that Planned Parenthood has made a PR mess out of their handling of the secret videos of their internal operations?

Can we all agree that the GOP really doesn’t want an abortion debate to be the central campaign theme?

Can we all agree that the $15/hour minimum wage is coming to America, whether businesses like it or not?

Can we all agree that anyone stopped for failing to signal a lane change should not be in jail three days later?

Can we all agree that while Barry Bonds may have finally come out on top in his battle with the judicial system, the court of public opinion made up its mind years ago?

Can we all agree that that theme of the Pope’s conference on Global warming and poverty was summed up pretty well by Gov. Jerry Brown’s quote: “We’re talking extinction…”

Can we all agree that the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington was a welcome site?

Can we all agree that Bill Cosby’s attempts to defend himself against his own deposition testimony, may be the final nail in his coffin?

Can we all agree that it’s great to see that the Kepler satellite has found another ‘Goldilocks planet’ similar to earth that we can add to the other 1 billion planets scientists say we might colonize after we have destroyed this one?

NASA graphic via Cal Tech

NASA graphic via Cal Tech

Can w all agree that Uber’s agreement to participate in a traffic study of NYC is really just an excuse to get both sides more time to negotiate an operating agreement with the Mayor?

Can we all agree that we are not surprised GM had to recall a million cars because their computers could be hacked, as the owners were driving?

Can we all agree that the President’s trip to Kenya only served to highlight the many problems that country faces?

 

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Existential Career Crisis

June 6, 2015

Filed under: Coaching,Management,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 9:17 am

A friend called recently worried about her career. She was apparently having an existential crisis after the end of a major project.

She’s a physician by training, specializing in back and neck injuries, using integrative treatment methods.

But, like many Baby Boomers she had been able to cut back on her work schedule and increase her volunteer activities.bigstock-playing-a-game-of-chess-52764313-758x485

As she said, “I like seeing patients two days a week, but I want something more, I just don’t know what it is.”

As I mentioned in my post “Career Conundrums” this is a frequent problem for older workers who already have a career. You can call them midlife crises or late-life crises, but they are generally an uncomfortable feelings related to “Is that all there is?” Peggy Lee’s 1969 hit.

After a short discussion, it became obvious that, hers wasn’t really a problem with “what do I want to do,” but was more about marketing – an all too common problem.

Turns out, my friend had some very specific ideas about her talents. She had even made a list – before I could suggest it. But she didn’t know how to market herself, or more accurately, just didn’t want to. That’s because sales and marketing requires a whole new skill set.

As someone who has done sales support and sales, I know that good sales people seldom get the credit they deserve.

Knowing what you want and telling the world about it require two very different talents. Most of the time we fail to recognize the difference. The real problem becomes bridging the gap.

Many very creative individuals have come to understand the problem. That’s why artists – actors, writers, painters – have agents. It frees them to do what they like, and leaves the sales, promotion and marketing to someone else.

Recruiters effectively do the same for other professions. Unfortunately, not every field has a specialized recruiter and many recruiters do a poor job of matchmaking.

If recruiters don’t meet your needs, you might look into outsourcing – the latest Baby Boomer growth industry. I don’t mean moving to India, but rather small companies who specialize in part time work. There are firms who place financial officers for  temporary positions or others who do the same for HR. There are even firms who place temporary CEO’s. This is particularly common in turn-around efforts, or for unexpected departures when firms need time to choose a new leader.

These outsourcing specialists are looking for a talent pool they can offer on an as-needed basis. Sometimes they lead to permanent jobs, but more often they are short assignments on a contract basis, which might be just what you want.

Believing that the world will beat a path to your door, because you have great skills is simply naive. You may have  a large circle of friends who know what a great job you did on that last project, but unless you let them know that you are open to more, you are invisible. You cannot be afraid to ask for help.

It requires a lot of self confidence to advertise yourself as an expert in a new area, because it risks criticism.

It also means change, which can be very disquieting.

The trick is to reframe your efforts: to expand your network: and practice your marketing pitch.

Ask a friend to lunch, but don’t approach it as a sales pitch, view it as an opportunity to ask for advice. Once you’ve done it a few times with friends, expanding to less familiar acquaintances will get easier.

Marketing yourself is just as important as the new career. You need to carve out time for it. At the start, your new job is all marketing, but eventually, it should just be part of your new career. But it needs to be a fixed part of your weekly schedule.

Don’t get trapped into a narrow range of assignments you will accept. Everyone sees you through a different lens and may see skills that you did not recognize.

And don’ expect instant results: keep your day job until you have some concrete new offers.

If you’re comfortable with blogs, tweets, or Facebook posts you can build your brand on the internet, but marketing on the internet can take even longer and means exposing yourself to many people who may not be able to help.

Your new career, at least at the start, will come from the people who know you the best.

Change is difficult, but it may be easier if you understand that:

1. Recognizing what you want to do, is not easy – you may need help.

2. You need to list the skills you want to market, but be open to alternatives.

3. You must recognize that marketing is part of your new job.

4. Self-promotion should start with people who know you best.

5. Reframing your interactions as a request for advice will make it easier.

6. Considering  recruiters or outsourcing specialists is an option.

7. You realize change will take time

 

 

 

 

 

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