Friday, April 24, 2009

NYC: Hate it or love it!

Being in New York last week for a conference reminded me of how much I have a love/hate relationship with the city. On one hand the food, shopping, culture are amazing but on the other hand the city smells, there's trash everywhere, and the people can be a little rough around the edges.

My experience living in NYC began after grad school, I moved there to pursue a job opportunity with, in my opinion, the greatest store in all of the world Saks Fifth Avenue. Through knowing the right people, I was accepted into their Executive Excellence Program Training Program. My coworkers were an interesting bunch but mostly young, rich, and White who had families well connected in the high-end retail industry.

At first living and working in the city took a little getting used to, especially the public transit system but I made it happen. I also lived in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood in Spanish Harlem, but I was okay with it because the people in my building were actually nice, the apartment was huge by NY standards and we had a balcony overlooking Central Park. In my apartment there were four girls and 1 (yes, ONE) bathroom, but we managed to never have a single problem. To this day, I still don't know how I did it.

I was determined to stay there for a year to complete the program and see where I’d go from there. Working in Midtown across from
Rockefeller Center during Christmas time was beautiful but the crowds were a nightmare. Tourists from all over the world spilled onto the sidewalks all day, everyday for nearly a month, making the 1 block walk from the bus stop a 15 minute hike. I was never really bothered by tourists until I lived here. Last week, my hotel was like 2 blocks from Times Square, thinking about the crowds still irks me.

Between my adventures of chasing an attempted mugger in sandals to get my friend’s Marc Jacobs bag back to having a mouse (and no I don’t mean Mickey) for a roommate, living in NYC was definitely an experience. I think in the long run it made me a better person and more aggressive. Living there you have to develop that New York State of Mind.

Much respect to my BFF from college and some of my other friends who’ve been there 5+ years. After all is said in done, I am glad to have had the opportunity to have lived there. Would I do it again? Definitely! I don’t have any regrets and the experience adds to the uniqueness I call my life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Networking Is Overrated

So I've always been a very involved person, I think it started in high school, you name it, I did it. College and grad school was much of the same. I've always enjoyed being busy and being surrounded by people who could nurture me as an individual both personally and professionally.

Now, I'm a member of many organizations including my alumni association, numerous business/civic associations, and my Sorority. Lately, everyone is all caught up in "networking". We've all heard the saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know," but often times I feel like networking is so overrated.

In my experience, at meetings and networking events I go to you meet someone, speak briefly, exchange business cards and never hear from that person again. I usually try to send a brief follow-up email but it never seems to progress. I feel like the only time the networking encounter evolves into more is if the other person is trying to holler. That is all well and good but if I'm trying to get to know you on a professional level, to help me advance my career, I'm not really trying to go out on a date with you. Nor am I interested in a quid pro quo relationship.

I'm sure there has to be a more effective way to meet people but as of now, I'm over the whole "networking" thing. I hoped by networking I'd be able to find a mentor but as of now I've had no such luck, any suggestions or tips would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gorgeous Prince George's

I moved to the suburbs of DC with my parents right before starting kindergarten. We lived in a nice house in a diverse neighborhood located in what was once referred to as "PG County", please call it Prince George's County.

Growing up, most of my friends had two working parents and were raised to respect our elders and taught morals and values. At that time we went to our local schools because they were safe, our teachers lived in our community and you could get a good public school education. Boy, have things changed.

As I got older I noticed there seemed to be a shift. Gradually, a certain demographic, mainly older Caucasian who moved there to retire, began to move away and others started to move in.

When it was time to go to high school, I decided to go to a public school that was known for it's Science & Technology program versus going to a private school like my parents wanted. I would definitely say at first it was somewhat of a culture shock even my school was only 5 minutes away. Here I was used to living in my own little world, where everyone lived in a house and had 2 middle, upper-middle class parents. I wouldn't say that I was sheltered, I was very involved in church and various activities, but was always surrounded by people who were for the most part like me. High school definitely prepared me for the real world and for being able to relate to all people regardless of their background and socioeconomic status.

Growing up and until recently, Prince George's county was always touted as the Most Affluent County for African-Americans in the US. I've heard that Fayette County in GA, has since taken over the title but I have yet to find the research to prove it. I moved back to the county two years ago after living in FL for college, ATL for grad school, NYC for work, then back to ATL, by simply watching the news you can tell the perception of the county had changed.

The first thing I noticed was the new slogan "Prince George's County: A County of Livable Communities." What? Seriously what does that mean? A shelter is livable. A jail is livable. I don't know who came up with that but they should be ashamed of themselves, it's so degrading. Every time I see the sign posted up on the median driving home I just shake my head in disgust. Such a slap in the face.

For those in the DMV, if you haven't noticed there is an effort to completely do away with saying "PG County" instead please use the full name, Prince George's County. When I first moved back, I got corrected many times and quickly got used to saying the entire name. Trust me it's really easy plus it sounds better. Notice you never hear people from other counties say they're from CC (Charles County), QA (Queen Anne's), AA (Anne Arundel), etc. People used to say MoCo (Montgomery County) but you rarely hear that these days.

As someone in marketing, I understand the county is trying to rebrand itself in hopes of regaining the elite reputation it was once known for. I have to say I'm glad the National Harbor was finally built. I remember the protests and signs posted in people's yard back in the late 90s. It has brought hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs, high-dollar real estate to the county and is a destination spot for people from all over the world. Now if only we could get a "real" mall, sorry but Bowie Town Center doesn't cut it. I'm talking like a Tyson's Corner.

I love my county and I'm proud to be back in Gorgeous Prince George's but I'm still trying to figure out what caused the shift? Was I just blind to it living in my small community (if you wondering I grew up in Tantallon, if you couldn't tell, lol) or have things really changed so drastically in the last 10-15 years? Thoughts? Comments?

Customer Service

What ever happened to customer service? I swear every time I go to my local grocery store, a restaurant or a clothing store these days they lack the essential customer service skills. Can I get a hello once in a while?

There have been several times I've gone to the grocery store, walked past people working in the various sections, obviously looking for something specific only to be ignored due to the fact they were having a conversation with another employee or simply oblivious to the fact that they were at work. I especially remember one time listening to two teenage boys working in the dairy section talking about some girl who went to their school and what a freak she was, using her name, explicit details and everything. First of all that was an inappropriate conversation for work and second of all they didn't seem to care who was around I could have been that girls sister for all they knew.

So after not being able to find help, I am forced to deal with what my friends and I refer to as silent transactions. I go to the checkout line and rarely do I hear the cashier say the customary lines like, "Did you find everything okay today" or "Do you have a bonus card?" After they've rung up your items they just stand there. What ever happened to telling the customer what their total was? Really not that difficult, you just have to look at the screen and read the numbers. I swipe my card, enter my pin #, and get handed my receipt. No "Thank you come again", no "Have a great evening", not one single word. Being the kind of person that I am I am known to say something sarcastic like "Oh thank you, you have a great evening as well."

Sometimes it gets so frustrating because I've had several customer service jobs in my life from working as a cashier in the food court at the mall to working as a sales associate for many retail shops and department stores. I just don't understand how you can get a job where you have to deal with customers and you don't possess the skills necessary to put together a sentence.

Who's to blame? Is it the employer who hires these people who could care less about serving the customer they are paid to serve. Or is it due to a break down in our community where people are not taught certain basic skills from their parents such as being friendly or how to relate to others. Or maybe it's just where I live, because I don't see the same behaviors in other areas.

I just don't understand why customer service, especially in areas that are predominantly Black, is so lacking these days. It's unacceptable and I refuse to stand for it. I'm quick to write a letter to a store or restaurant's corporate office. It's not that I'm trying to get something free (which usually happens) or difficult but I think it's important to inform them because some people think they can treat you any kind of way and you'll just accept it. As the saying goes, closed mouths don't get fed. If we don't say anything, things will never change. This applies to not only customer service but life in general.