Friendly strangers are…not strange!


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My friends often make fun of me because I have a habit of making friends in very strange places.

I’ll go to the bathroom for 5 minutes and come out arm and arm with a girl I never saw before in my life. Usually that’s because I’ve embarrassed myself somehow, and we both shared a laugh at my expense. It’s an interesting way to go through life. When I travel, it seems that  both the likelihood of fail and the likelihood of spontaneous friendship increase exponentially. I should make a bar graph.

There were a few points during my Trans-Siberian journey when I found trouble, and suddenly, a friend was there. My night train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow turned out to be one of these occasions.

It’s a good thing that I don’t speak Russian – I would have probably been very offended to hear the sneers of disgruntled passengers who put up with me staggering from one wrong seat to the next. And the next. It was pitch dark, I was the last to board, and all of the seat numbers, (and my ticket) were in Russian. OH fail.

trainIt wasn’t the volume or their tone that made me uncomfortable….maybe it was the laughter. Yeah, that was it. And the way they pierced me with their pitiless gazes, as though I was naked on the first day of primary school.

Sliding into the correct seat at last, I shmooshed my awkward tote under the table, smoothed my fluffed up curls, and let my heart beat settle into it’s natural rhythm. At least I had the seat across from me to myself.

But then, just as the train whistle blew, a wiry old man stumbled up the isle and slid into the seat I had been planning for a leg-rest.

It was a tiny one-person booth. He and I sat opposite, with a metal table between us. I was just settling into the awkward language-barrier silence, when he piped up; “Hi! How are you? My name is Zuzuka and I’d love to practice my English.” We chatted for a good while and I settled into a velvety relaxation.

When the conversation ended, I pulled out a sweater and settled in to sleep face-first on the table, like a catcatface. He called out to me, pointing to the bunk above us, and I said “That’s ok, you can have it!” After all, I had paid for a ‘seat’ only, not a bed. It was fair.

He started to make his bed and I clocked out again, only to wake to him saying “Hey! Let me help you!” I did not understand what he meant, so I told him that I was all set.

False!! At this point, he pulls my sweater-pillow away and says “Get up you poop!” So I did. Life-changing was the moment when I watched him macgyver this very fixed looking table upside-down, and then lower it snuggly into the space between the seats. Bed number two. My eyebrows actually launched off my face in surprise.

I went to lay down, when he said “No no no. Wrong again.”

This time, he made me move over while he whisked bedding out of thin air and made my entire bed for me. This is the point it dawned on me that I was about to make a poor old man scuttle up to a top bunk, while I sleep like a fat lazy beagle in my pre-made bed. I begged to switch, but he would not hear of it. The dear.

Snug as pie, I settled in to sleep. My last memory before drifting off to the narcotizing sway of the train car was of Zuzuka peering over the edge of his bunk and whispering “Goodnight Jessica!!!” with a massive grin, waving like a kindergartener fresh off the school bus.

I will never forget the super fun trajectory of fail that led me to such a good person. It seems that kindred spirits can be found anywhere.

Saying goodbye.


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The first thing we are taught in this world is how to say hello, but nobody ever teaches us how to say goodbye.

I am not talking about waving to your kindergarten teacher as you cross the hallway to the first grade classroom. Or the way you feel when your older brother goes off to college for the first time. I am referring to the soul shuddering farewells that shift the polarity of your known identity. The kind of partings that make you question all the decisions you’ve ever made in life.

Crouching beside my fourteen-year-old dog, her milky eyes teemed with liquid trust. Steeling me with her caramel gaze, she took no notice of the suitcase by the door. I cradled her silver muzzle between sweaty palms, trying to strike a balance between denial and an overwhelming appreciation for all that she is.

This is the kind of goodbye I’ve encountered from the moment I left for Australia, two and a half years ago.

Travel-hungry expats understand this kind of raw reality better than anyone, as by the nature of travel we find ourselves meeting and parting, perhaps forever, from a multitude of exceptional people. But what do you do when these periphery encounters become a significant part of your life?

After several years living and working abroad, I find that there is no such thing as goodbye. You can’t produce an equation or cook up a recipe to soothe an ethereal sense of loss. If you could, I feel that would be doing a great disservice to all you have known and experienced.

While time, space, and the waking world may separate us from the people and things that we have known and loved in the past, they are never truly dislodged from us once embedded.

Goodbye is a graveyard that I spend life speeding by, only glancing at from the heated seats of my volvo station wagon. But every now and then I have to pull the car over, stop the engine, and take a saunter through the old parts of myself.

Greeting others is one of the most beautiful tokens of social expression and the true goodbye is an eternity of hello’s to the past.

 

Battling unemployment in the digital dimension


unemployment!

“She needs me now but I can’t seem to find the time.  I’ve got a new job now in the unemployment line. And we don’t know how we got into this mess, it’s a god’s test, someone help us cause we’re doing our best.”

With an increasingly unstable world economy, the lyrics from the Script’s 2012 chart-topping hit have never rung more true.

According to a recent study conducted by Rutgers University in the United States, less than half of all 2009 graduates secured a full-time job within a year. Of that percentage, only half of these lucky hires reported satisfaction in their role.

That’s roughly 90,000 people struggling with unemployment and career dissatisfaction.

Experienced professionals are constantly forced to seek below their level, squeezing newbies out of the value-chain altogether.

The question stands: As a job seeker, what can you do to elevate yourself above a cess pool of stagnant talent?

What many people don’t realize, is that applying for jobs is now only one per cent of the battle. With the rise of the digital dimension, the tools now exist to self-promote your most valuable commodity; you.

Networking

The internet is a resource, not a solution. Job seeking professionals should use it as a tool to engineer genuine, real-world relationships rather than treating it as the means to an end.

After over a decade of polls, CareerXroads’ ‘Sources of Hire Survey‘ continues to show referrals as the primary hiring source across all industry sectors. Employers want to know as much as possible about potential candidates, including who you know and who else values you as a commodity.

Likewise, networking opens the door to jobs that have not yet been posted or may never be formally advertised. There is a whole volcano of sneaky career opportunities smoldering under the radar of main-stream recruitment.

Social Media

Most job seekers don’t bother to develop an online identity and feel that social media doesn’t apply to their industry. But the truth is, social media is multilateral.

At the end of the day, professional success comes down to one thing; confidence. If you don’t show any self-interest, why should anyone else? An active social media presence shows confidence in your skills, confidence in your industry, and  most importantly, confidence in yourself.

By posting examples of your work, re-tweeting industry news, blogging about your latest triumphs, you are providing tangible proof of your dedication and enthusiasm for what you do.

When your application eventually lands on their desk, employers will notice and applaud your multidimensional commitment.

The Direct Approach

The email inbox is where all good job opportunities go to die.

From the instant you click send, that email turns into Nemo, the clown fish. If you don’t follow it up with hyperactive persistence, an ocean of carnivorous sea creatures will descend to swallow your dreams whole. Not exactly, but close enough.

With today’s digital hiring procedures, HR in-boxes are flooded with hundreds of emails. Often you will never receive a reply. I have been told by several interviewers that I would not have been considered, had I failed to follow up.

Additionally, stalking businesses through social media portals is not only a good idea, it is expected. The editor of a magazine asked me in an interview, “have you liked us on Facebook yet?” Of course…

The Glory of LinkedIn

God help you if you are not on linkedIn.

As one of the most commanding social media networks, LinkedIn allows companies to pool their prospects within a single platform. Most importantly, it facilitates conversation between all walks of business.

By merging my Facebook friends with my account, I was shocked by the people I was suddenly connected to.

This is how I came to connect with Michael Lohan, the unfortunate brother of the drug slugging sensation we all know and probably don’t love. I can’t wait to harness that resource.

The Way Forward

The biggest mistake first-world entrepreneurs make is to view digital platforms as the soft copy extension of the CV. While a CV is a static, inactive slab, your online identity is a calico cat; purring your animated message to a pliant pool of potentials.

In a global professional climate where value is measured in eminence and billion dollar ideas are a brain-fart away, we all have to work a little bit harder to promote the unique within ourselves.

The next time you find yourself second-man down in an interview line up, log in, link up, and look sharp!

Happiness is.


fiji

Following her trip to Fiji, my friend Olivia spoke of a boy she met on the street.

“We ran into a group of enthusiastic, fresh faced locals, having some fun on a break from work. They were the happiest group of young people I have met in my life,” She said.

“One boy was ecstatic because working 12 hours a day 7 days a week for 4 cents an hour, he had finally managed to save enough money to take his brother to the movies. It was inspiring; he had not one bad word to say about his lifestyle.”

Incandescent with pleasure, he was oblivious to the unfairness of his situation and happy as pie with the cards he had been dealt.© Matt Dayka - Vitamin Angels GT14-9157-2

Conclusion: Happiness isn’t conditional, it just is.

It’s sad that from an early age, we are spoon-fed propaganda that forces us to believe that to be happy, we need things. We must buy this, go there, study that, or change who we are to meet some kind of social standards. And THEN we will be happy. But we never get there.

That new Maserati feels great for a few moments, and then we are onto the next consumerist quest. The next item on the master checklist. Then the newer models roll out and 5 minutes later your ‘state of the art’  technology is obsolete. It’s the “Give A Mouse A Cookie” philosophy on a universal scale.

In an image-obsessed society where creating the perfect ‘you’ is just a credit card click away, we stake all our values in the wrong pots. As humans, it’s natural to compare what we have to our neighbor, but the social schematics of first-world living drives this instinct to disgustingly unnatural heights.

And it extends beyond materialism. Until I “get this promotion” or “reach that status”,  I will not be the person I want to be. When did we start measuring self-worth by what we don’t have, instead of what we do? “I’m not good enough.”, “I can’t afford that.”, “I’m not ready.”

© Matt Dayka - Vitamin Angels GT14-9181As that choking veil of inadequacy settles over you and an unsatisfied wish-list drags you into a dream-dashed depression, remember one boy in Fiji who has nothing and everything at the same time.