Nice is cool and cool is nice.

Many years ago I was at a wedding.  During the cocktail hour I was hanging out with a college pal.  He wasn’t really a pal but I don’t live in a world of acquaintances,  everyone is my friend.  However, in this case, pal, or friend, is a little bit of a stretch because I’m pretty sure this guy would be able to pick me out of a lineup but my name, not a chance.  Not that that defines what a friend is….

Anyway, we spent a good 15 minutes chatting about life, and how what really matters is how you be in the world.  And we realized, after laughing about the structure of cool in the space of college,  what was really important in life was simply being a nice person.  And, how nice a person you are is directly proportionate to how cool you are – so says the authority on cool.  But seriously, try this on – being cool is being nice and being nice is being cool.  And an important aspect of what makes a nice and now cool person is giving.  Giving without any expectations of a return on your actions.

A couple of weeks ago,  my wife and I got a handwritten card in the mail.  This card wasn’t sent to wish a happy birthday, celebrate a holiday or to offer condolences or a get well.  It was just a note to say “hello” from our friend who lives cross country.  We were genuinely moved by this gesture; a simple little something that said, “hey,  just wanted to let you guys know I love you and am thinking of you” in such a pure, innocent, caring and nice way.   I don’t write letters (or cards) to anyone unless the moment or day dictates.  I don’t think I’ve gotten letters (or cards) unless the moment or day dictated.  It was an especial experience for me,  and I really appreciated it.  So much so that I quickly sprung into action and did all I could to seize, err, I mean bastardize the moment.  We finished reading the card,  gave our friend the adulation he had coming and I was off… off to the nearest computer to instantly contact him via Face time.  Of course I had to pitstop at FaceBOOK to ensure he had Face Time before I could visually intrude on his personal space.  And visually intrude we did, but I know he was happy to see us as we were to see him.  The point is that what he did – writing that note for no reason whatsoever other than he loves us – was really nice…and cool.

Speaking of cool, I’m volunteering with a not for profit called Behind the Book on Thursday.  We’re visiting with a school, CS 21 in Bedford Stuyvesant, to complete a project the 5th graders started with author Alex Simmons, on the “The Art of Comic Making.”  The children have worked with Mr. Simmons and have written stories, done the artwork including lettering, penciling and coloring, and are now ready to add the finishing touches to their comics.  I’m not really sure what my role will be but whatever it is, I’m fired up for it.  I’ve done some volunteering with BtB before (affixing address labels and NON SELF-ADHESIVE stamps to a mailer and then schlepping that mail to the Post Office, or in other words, just getting it done) and really appreciate their mission to motivate young people to become engaged readers by connecting them to contemporary writers and illustrators.  It should be a blast.

And if that isn’t cool enough, I was accepted to and completed training to be a volunteer at the 9/11 Memorial.  One of my friends has been volunteering there and suggested I do the same.  And I just went with it because I think if I’d thought more about it before committing, I might not have taken the leap.  You see, my way of dealing with 9/11 is to keep my memories stored in a small place inside my hide, and I choose not to visit that place much.  So this is going against my psychological defense mechanisms but so far I’m glad I’m going down that road.  Perhaps it may help some wounds that never  quite healed correctly.  Anyway, I still have to pick a day and a time slot to go (10AM – 1:30PM, 1:30PM – 5PM or 5PM – 8PM) but it’s happening.  And soon.

This wasn’t a self aggrandizing post patting myself on the back because I do these things.  In fact, I thought long and hard about how to convey my message; this post had been sitting in my queue for about a month.  Maybe I’m being a little dramatic – a lot had to do with my schedule filling up between my Jumpstart classes and the consulting  commitment that followed.  I just wrote this post because I’m excited to be doing these nice things and excited to experience these cool experiences.  And who knows, in giving there may be a bulb that goes off in my head, or a path that’s illuminated for me.  But either way, I’m doing this because I can, and I want to.  And I’m cool. World… it’s on.

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You don’t say. No, really, don’t say.

I know I owe you a blog post or seven on the first half of my Jumpstart program, since it was all I talked about for days,  but I’m fast forwarding to the second half.  This past Monday, my colleagues and I were required to select the companies we’re considering for our pro bono consulting fellowships.  “Consulting fellowship” is a sexy term for an internship, but it’s a legitimate descriptive because we’re too senior/experienced to be called “interns.” We were given a list of 85 projects to choose from and had to submit six by last Monday at 5PM.  I submitted them at 1:43PM, moments before heading out to the bar to watch Manchester United lose to Man City.  By the way, I’ve discovered that one of the benefits of being unemployed is that I get to watch a sporting event when/if I want to without fear of repercussions for playing hooky from a job.  (Note to all prospective employers reading my blog: I’ve never played hooky in my life.)  On Monday and Tuesday we have speed matching sessions where each Jumpstarter spends 10 minutes with each of the companies he/she chose.  We got our schedules on Friday and I noticed two things:

  1. I already lost one of my choices – apparently too many folks chose x company and so the powers that be eliminated some of us from contention before interviews.  I assume they worked out some algorithm to determine who lost out and didn’t just leave it up to chance;  and,
  2. All my interviews are on Monday.

Just sharing the logistics, folks.

On the Sunday night before our selections were due, I was talking to someone I’m very close with.  He asked to review my choices with me.  Since I respect his opinions, enjoy his role in my life and know he only wants the best for me, I was game.  In his zeal to support me with advice, his words had an opposite effect and did not make me feel good.  He ended up knocking each of the companies we talked about for one reason or another; “I don’t think that company will pan out” or “How will this company’s project help you going forward” or “This company sounds like it’s just community outreach.”  And then he hit me with this whammy which tied it all up with a nice little bow: “because you know, after this, you need a job.”  Ugh.  Interestingly enough, if there’s anyone that is aware of this little fact, it’s me.  And, as it turns out, I just happen to be the number 1 ranked person in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD in knowing that I need a job, and coincidentally, the #2 ranked person lives with me!

Sunday night into Monday morning is a rough time regardless of whether you have a job or not.  And it was now that much more difficult after the phone call.  Seeds of doubt had been planted in my head.  What’s going to happen when the Jumpstart program is over?  What if my project company doesn’t hire me?   (The conversion rate is 10%; the reasons behind that figure are unknown to me so I haven’t attached much meaning to it but I wanted to throw it out as a frame of reference.)  What if I haven’t landed anything outside the program?  What is it again that I really want to do with my life?  Will we be able to continue to afford our lives using creative financing, leveraging one income and credit cards?  My head was hurting.  And it didn’t get any better when I witnessed my team essentially lose the English Premier League title later in the day.  (I’ve gotten much better as the years have passed realizing that it’s only a game played by other people, but it still doesn’t elicit a happy feeling or a smile.)  And Monday night was blah as I went to a class on Small Business Marketing when all I really wanted to do was be with my family.   The next two days were kinda funky as well.  A lot had to do with the crappy weather and some had to do with the minutiae of everyday unemployed life.  That conversation sent me down a path I didn’t want to be on.  And only until a very funny conversation with my landlord did I get my swagger back.  We all have those days.  I don’t much like ’em though.  Especially now.

What all the Jumpstarters should be embracing, and what I forgot for a couple of days, is with each project, regardless of which one is chosen, there are experiences to be had, lessons to be learned, people to be met and everyday business challenges to be SOLVED.  And my colleagues and I will be better off after having gone through this part of the program.  I’m fired up about these interviews and the companies I selected.  It’s getting pretty exciting and I’m looking ahead to this next wonderful experience.  World… it’s on!