Mo’ money, mo’ problems

What did Lenny Dykstra get himself into this time?

And how did he get to be known as a “financial guru”? Did you ever read the GQ story on what it was like to work for Dykstra? More like “fraud guru.” And “big bully” and “shameless liar.”

Six days later, I stay up until 3 a.m. to complete my work on the October issue. In the morning, my sixty-seventh day of employment at The Players Club, Chris Frankie calls to deliver the news: “Lenny is going in another direction.”

“Just pay me,” I plead.

Our economy – our national economy and our personal economy – is fragile.

Suze Orman taught me this much: Don’t plan on spending any money until you have it in your hand or in your bank account.

As a result of being laid off, I’ve gotten frugal. No more salon trips unless absolutely necessary. Ended the high-class-gym membership. Money I was throwing away on gas is now being fueled to the savings account. Did we need the fancy butter at the store or could we go with the 4-pack we bought for lobster? (Which is 3.99 a pound at our local seafood shack – so don’t get any ideas that we’re living the high life). Did we need to have dinner at trivia or could we grill at home and have beers at the pub when we got there?

It’s about choices. Assess what you need first and what you want next.

Which brings me back to Dykstra. Dykstra – although a man who began life after baseball by seemingly making the right financial choices – got greedy. To the point of destroying his well-being and cheating others in the chase for the almighty dollars.

I say this all the time – money is the root of all evil and, as fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone explained in her first book, it’s up to us to reclaim it in the name of some good in the world. Otherwise, money makes us do horrible things and has a strange power over us. Earn more, spend more. Come upon a windfall, ignore the fact that you might be in a free-fall.

And like Puffy said in 1997 – mo’ money, mo’ problems.


They may take our jobs …

… but they will never take what we’ve created.

From time to time I’ll post links to some of the stories I’ve written. The first story I’ll post is about a really great kid from a really great family who is in his second year of playing college hockey.

What struck me about Derek Army the first time I met him, at Christmas of 2007 at the Maine High School Hockey Invitational, was his effervescence. How he communicated and engaged with people, a byproduct of not only the number of times he moved around the country because of his father’s line of work – his father is now an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche – but also the curiosity he had (and still has) about meeting and learning about other people.

”I think with all those moves, he knew how to come across to people,” said Nate Gadbois, a sophomore forward for Scarborough and a teammate of Army’s with Casco Bay Youth Hockey. ”He knows how to treat his teammates and he knows how to act around the rink. He knows how to win games and how to keep himself in control on the ice. Me and Army, we always played on the same line so he’d go out and he always played to the next level. It made me want to compete that much more, to keep up him when he was my teammate.”

Don’t be uncomfortable

When you are going through a major life crisis – like a layoff – people tend to walk on eggshells around you.

Because they are uncomfortable.

I stopped at Mr. Hustle’s office to say hello to him on one of my last assignments and as we talked I said hello to a colleague of his, who was polite, but there was a strange tension in the air. I knew why.

“Well,” I said in the lobby, “aren’t you going to offer some condolences?”

Silence. I sensed the fear. “Come on,” I said. “I’m killing the elephant in the room here.”

He came over and admitted it to me. “It’s uncomfortable. And I’m sorry that you lost your job.”

“I know it is. But it’s not your fault, and it’s not my fault. But I don’t want you to feel awkward around me because of something that neither of us can control.”

It broke a lot of the tension between the colleague – someone whom I consider a good person who is passionate about his work and will fight for his coworkers – and we had a good conversation about what was on the horizon for both of us.

A lot of newspapers have a staffer write an obituary each day in the form of a news story. It’s a commemoration of someone’s life, and the recording of some of the memories of the people whose lives they touched. You’d think it would be the hardest thing for a reporter to do, but I’ve met obit writers who are caring and compassionate and want to memorialize a person properly and objectively. Sometimes they are one of the few people whom a person can talk to when they are grieving.

So don’t cower in fear of the uncomfortableness that may come with someone in the midst of a life crisis – a divorce, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, losing a home. Ask them how they are. Ask them if you can help in any way, even just to talk over a beer or to take a walk.

You cannot save their house, help them get their job back or bring back their loved ones. But you can be empathetic and sympathetic. More often than not, people want to talk about it. They want to emote. They want to feel. And they want someone to listen to them.

Consider the truth.

Someone recently told me that “the truth hurts.”

I’d tell you to consider the context – it was a West Virginia grad who responded to my tweet about how I’ve lost faith in the Todd Graham way at Pitt. The truth – the system is not helping that program. Tino Sunseri was ill-equipped (or not necessarily properly prepared) to quarterback an offense that intended to wear down other teams … when, in fact, it just wore itself down. At one point in the season Pitt was fourth in total offense in the Big East, but dead last in passing  and pass efficiency and sixth in points scored. Not to mention the defense had given up 33 sacks before the end of October. A quarterback is never going to get ahead by being pulled down behind the line.

Bottom line – you need to outscore your opponent to win. That’s not happening. That’s the truth.

But I’m going off on a tangent. I know that Mr. Mountaineer expected me to groan and cry and get into a Twitter fight over the fact that, yes, Pitt is kind of dreadful so far this year. I’m not going to fight over that, regardless of whether it’s a Syracuse grad or a Rutgers student trying to instigate something.

But his statement brings up a point.

Does the truth hurt?

It doesn’t fatally wound.

Instead, it stings.

When we face the truth, we are forced to examine some of the things that led us to face the truth. Did we do something properly or improperly? Are our values and our intentions and our goals in the right place? What brought us to the point that we might have to make some changes? Are we secure with the truth, even if it might pain us?

One thing I’ve learned from getting laid off is that there were several truths I was avoiding in being part of the process. I realized these truths once I began to detatch myself from the environment. I was spending too much money on gas and not spending enough time with my husband, because I was pursuing a story. I was not happy with certain aspects of my job. I had pushed away many people in pursuit of my career … and I’m lucky that people are willing to re-kindle those relationships.

Things I also realized: I love to cook and run errands because it makes me feel like I’m productive and contributing to a goal, teamwork in marriage. I hate watching the news – I’d rather read a magazine or, yes, a newspaper. And, yes, I’m sad to leave my coworkers, people whom I’ve formed bonds with over the years, and I hate the fact that people related to me proverbially bury their heads in the sand and won’t even face the truth head-on – that I’m going through a huge life change and I’m getting my hustle back on, and I need a little support.

And another truth? I forgot how I enjoy getting my hustle on. I enjoy interacting with people and pitching them ideas and emphasizing their strengths and the possibilities in front of them. I like challenging people, too, through healthy debate and questioning. Sometimes it forces them to examine truths in their lives and their beliefs, too.

The truth isn’t bad. But it’s necessary.

From outsourced to outsourcing

I’ve gotten a slew of freelance assignments so far, to the point that I begged for a deadline on one project, and I was ready to outsource the next one.

Yes, outsource a freelance assignment. It sounds ridiculous and ironic, doesn’t it?

The possibilities overwhelmed me. The prospect of potential jobs. The idea of relocating and packing and moving 8 years of stuff.

I was suffocating.

Sometimes it’s OK to say no. This may be the only time in my life I get to breathe without worrying about a deadline later in the day.

The creators

In keeping in touch with former coworkers, many whom I consider friends (and who contradicted my belief that I was rather feared and disliked among my peers), we’ve had a lot of conversations about life and about the bigger picture.

One of my coworkers, a super-creative guy who marches to the beat of his own drummer but who encourages everyone to follow their heart and their dreams and not to settle for anything, wrote me something that resonated with me. It reiterated what I said when I was told it was time to move on – this isn’t who I am, this is just what I do.

Super-creative coworker: “And remember, our job was never to move ink on paper, it was to communicate, and there are more ways to do that than ever.”

Me: “You are so right.”

And it reminded me of something I figured out in Europe, which I wrote back to him.

We aren’t just ink peddlers and corporate pawns. What you said reminds me of a revelation I had in Italy, when I was kind of wondering what my role in life really was. We were touring the Sistine Chapel and our tour guide, Franco, was telling us all these stories about how Michelangelo designed one of his greatest works. He was a bit of a rebel and he challenged the papacy so many times in the process of the work. He even told the Vatican, “I’m not a painter! I’m a sculptor!” 

The pope considered this, and furthered the equation. “You,” he told Michelangelo, “are a creator.” 

And that’s when I got it. We are communicators, and we are creators.

We have a lot more to offer the world than just trying to make a deadline (and the bottom line). There are so many skills that we have gained that can be applied to daily life – being organized, confronting people, being accurate, thriving in structure, creating structure.  To be creative and innovative and resourceful and intuitive.

On a side note, we Americans are doing it all wrong. We need to take a serious tip from the Euros.