May 21, 2011

Bulk view

Notes from the airport: Missed my flight; not the end of the world after all

For the first time in my life, I missed my flight. I was in tears. I called American Express, and was on hold with them while they rerouted my itinerary through Vancouver. It will be an overnight flight and I’ll arrive Sunday morning instead of Saturday night, but I’ll arrive.

Then I called W-, who told me things were going to be okay and helped me remember that I was strong. I don’t feel very strong at the moment – my fingers shake – but I can feel the storm of panic and frustration and self-pity pass. Denver International Airport has free wireless, but I can’t seem to connect to it. I used my Kindle to send him a Twitter direct message with the flight details the travel agent gave me. I may be frazzled, but I still turn to frugal workarounds for roaming charges.

There’s a lesson in here about timezones, public transit, and triple-checking my departure time against my printed ticket instead of my copied itinerary. Better to learn the lesson this time than at a more crucial moment – that’s what I always tell myself when I make a mistake large enough to throw me off-kilter. Better now than later. Better a small situation than a life-or-death one. Going home, with Monday a day off, on a US-Canada flight, a missed flight has much smaller ripples than an inbound flight on a critical business trip or an expensive personal trip halfway across the world–and I still get to distill from it whatever it can teach me about life and myself.

That’s the second thing I tell myself during these hiccups: It all becomes part of the story, the rough watersas well as the smooth. I’m learning that after that initial flood of panic, I feel this preternatural calm sets in. I can’t change the past, so I don’t fret about it. No amount of worrying is going to change my short-term future. This nervous energy can be channelled into writing. Not too long from now, there’ll be a day when everything will be back to normal. Why stress out about things I can’t change and that won’t be permanent? Everything is going to be okay.

The situation is not that much different from a hypothetical world where I’m sitting in the airport patiently waiting for my intentionally-booked flight to Vancouver with a connection to Toronto. I’ve done that before. After setting the wheels in motion, it is an easy thing to shift to that track, like rail lines that start at different stations and converge. I learn what I can from stress, then call up that feeling of purposeful waiting.

Missing a flight, surprisingly enough, isn’t the end of the world. (Even if you miss said flight on May 21, the supposed day of the apocalypse.) Even though this is my first missed flight, the travel agencies and airlines have handled innumerable cases like mine before, and they know what to do. The American Express agent found another route to get me to Toronto. although it takes much longer than my original flight does, and arranges it for the change fee $150 plus the fare difference. Better than losing the full value of the flight, for sure! I don’t know if IBM will allow me to expense the increase in my fare, but if not, I can charge it to my experience fund – and thank goodness I have one, so that unexpected expenses don’t plunge me into more lasting troubles. I already know the process for paying part of my American Express card in case IBM policy doesn’t cover the itinerary change. Even though the flight lands early in the morning, W- will be there to meet me. Boy, will I be ever so glad to see him! Everything’s going to work out okay. Worst-case scenario, I pay for the fare difference myself, and it takes me a little longer to save up for my next goals. No big deal.

W- is right. I’m strong. I bounce back almost involuntarily. Maybe this hiccup will help me become even more resilient, if I remember to take the right lessons from it, if a future crisis makes me think, “Aha, I know how to deal with this, I’ve survived something similar before” instead of “I’m such an idiot, I can’t do anything right, like that time I missed my flight.”

Things I am glad about:

  • Amazon Kindle 3G connection. I’ve been talking about this so much on my blog and on Twitter, I know! But in areas without free, reliable WiFi networks, it’s been really really useful to be able to search for information and post updates.
  • Travel agencies, airline personnel, and lots of other travellers. I’m glad I booked this work trip through American Express, because they knew how to work the system in order to get me home. For our personal trips, I’m going to make sure I write down the toll-free numbers for the airlines so that I can get to them quickly if I need to reroute. I’m glad that airline personnel have handled many other missed flights before, and I’m a tiny bit glad that other people have run into and solved these problems. Can you imagine being the first person to miss a flight in the
  • Chocolate stroopwafels. As I headed out the door of our house, W- gave me two chocolate stroopwafels from our trip to the Netherlands. “For emergencies,” he said. I ate the first stroopwafel on the way out, cheering myself up after facing the prospect of a week-long trip. I saved the second stroopwafel. This counts as an emergency worthy of a stroopwafel, I believe, and I will have it shortly. The thought itself is comforting already.
  • Air travel and computers. Isn’t it amazing that we can fly through the air? And that computers can link together different routes, different cities, different companies? Can you imagine what it might’ve been like to miss a steamship that runs only once a month?
  • Writing. If you had told me in school that writing could be a comfort and a joy, I might’ve fallen in love with it then instead of getting bored by all the book reports and critical essays we wrote for teachers and never for ourselves. Writing will be my last and longest love, I think, even after time strips away friends and family, and hands and eyes fail.

There are more thoughts for this list, but I’m at the gate waiting for the flight to Vancouver. Everything will work out.

2011-05-21 Sat 17:00

Presentation draft: Mentoring on the Network

Gail LeCocq asked me if I wanted to give a presentation for the Other-Than-Traditional-Office (OTTO) group in Toronto. At the time, I was preparing The Busy Person’s Guide to Learning from the Network, so I suggested that. When she got back in touch a ew weeks later to confirm, though, I realized that I wanted to talk about a different topic instead. I suggested a topic on mentoring, which several people had asked me about. Here’s a rough draft.

Mentoring on the Network
View more presentations from Sacha Chua

Why

Mentoring. We all know mentoring is good for your career, but sometimes it’s hard to make time to find and meet with mentors. Here’s how mentoring can make a big difference in the way you work:

  • Information: Mentors can help you learn complex tools or processes, review your work, and avoid or resolve problems.
  • Advice: Mentors can share insights you didn’t even know you needed. Mentors can also help you understand your hidden strengths and weaknesses.
  • Accountability: Mentors can help you commit to your goals and stay motivated.
  • Stretching: Mentors can challenge you to grow and call you out if you’re slacking off.
  • Connection: Mentors can help you navigate a large organization and find just the right people who can help you.
  • Sponsorship: Mentors can help you find opportunities you may not hear about yourself, or convince people to take a chance on you. Mentors can also speak up for you when people are making decisions.
  • Social interaction: Regular mentoring conversations can bring some of that social interaction back into remote work.

    Challenges and advantages

So mentoring is good, but how can you convince someone to invest the time and energy into mentoring you, particularly if you can’t make that face-to-face connection with them or develop familiarity by working together in a colocated office?

Mentoring can be difficult if you’re a remote employee. In an office, you might bump into someone you admire and ask them questions, your manager might walk over and introduce you to someone, or you might buy someone coffee or lunch while picking their brain. When you’re remote, you need to be more creative about connecting with people.

On the plus side, you can connect with possible mentors around the world. This means you can learn from very different perspectives. You can get a sense of what life and work is like in different business units and geographies.

Finding mentors

In IBM, you can use the Bluepages company directory system to find people who have volunteered to mentor other people. IBM Learning organizes speed-mentoring events where you can connect with many possible mentors, ask quick questions, and follow up for additional help or introductions. IBMers are also usually open to e-mail requests or questions.

Mentors can be older than you or younger than you, in the same business unit or in a different one, next door or around the world. Keep your mind open, and reach out. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

You can build a mentoring relationship over time. Start by connecting with your potential mentor and asking for a small piece of advice. Act on that advice if it’s good. Send a thank-you note with the results. Ask for more advice, and share more updates. Share what you’ve been learning from other people, too. If it turns out to be a good fit for both you and the other person, you might ask if you can set up a regular monthly chat to learn more.

If your potential mentor posts blog entries or profile updates, you can use that to build a relationship as well. Read what they post, comment, and share any updates on insights you’ve picked up from them and applied in your work or life. Send thanks – or better yet, post your thanks online too.

Making the most of mentoring

  • Have a clear idea of what you want to learn, how your potential mentor can make a difference, and why he or she may want to help you.
  • Set up a regular time to connect with your mentor – once a month, for example. Meet in person if possible, or connect using a video-conferencing program like Skype.
  • Talk about communication preferences with your mentor. Some people like having very focused meetings. Send them prepared questions before your conversation. Other people prefer e-mail or blog conversations over phone conversations. Try that out.
  • Take notes. Mentors invest time into helping you, and you can save them time and increase the ROI by writing down what you’ve learned in a form that they can easily share with other people.
  • Thank people!

    Helping others

Helping others is fulfilling, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. Even if you don’t consider yourself an expert, you’ve probably learned a lot of things you take for granted. You can help people get started, save time, and learn more. Give mentoring a try!

Some ways to connect with mentees:

  • Talk to your manager and other people about the things you can help people with. They can refer people to you.
  • Give presentations and share your slides. There are many groups in IBM who organize regular conference calls, and they’re always looking for speakers.
  • Attend virtual and real-life networking events. Ask people what they want to learn or what could help them be more successful.
  • Post profile updates or write blog posts. This helps people learn what you’re good at and get a sense of who you are.

Don’t forget to mention your mentoring during the Personal Business Commitments (PBCs) review. It’s a way of giving back to the community and investing in others!

Next steps

Now we get to the networking part of this presentation, where you might find a mentor or connect with a mentee. You’ll probably want pen and paper for this one, so you can write down people’s names. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves. Say your first and last name, then answer these questions: What do you need help with? What can you help people with? Then say your first and last name again, in case people missed your name the first time around. (Spell your name if you need to.) If you’re listening to someone’s introduction and something interests you, feel free to connect on this call or through Sametime!

What do you think? What would you like to share with other people looking for mentors or mentees?

2011-05-20 Fri 14:55