Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #6

After a month off for the holidays, the mid-month short story challenge is back. If you’re new to the challenge, the rules are simple. Follow the prompt/guidelines below and write a story based off of that prompt. If you’re posting the story on a blog or a publicly shared document, try to have the post up by the deadline so that I can share it. If you’re finding this after the fact, share your post whenever (and let me know so I can link back to the post).

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on February 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.

  • Suggested number of words: 1500 word limit
  • Seven words to work into your story: Sweatpants, immaculate, bird, independently, toque, flattery, polkadot
  • Genre: Your choice
  • Rating/Content Limitations: Your choice
  • Topic: Write about people watching in a public place

Good luck and happy writing.

2018 Blog Goals

I have never been much of a person for making goals for a coming year, especially not for my writing or my blog. Sure, there’s things I’d like to do, but I generally don’t set them out in goal form.

I thought I’d change that this year for a few different reasons. First and foremost, I’ve had this blog for a little over three years now. While I’ve enjoyed writing on this blog, it’s never quite reached the traffic levels of either of the two blogs I had before that. I recognize that part of that is timing related. Early on in this blog’s existence, the active blogging community I was part of closed its doors. I received a decent amount of traffic from that site, we well as various bloggers who frequented that site coming to my blog(s) directly. Losing that was unfortunate.

Additionally, I think blogging as a medium is in a decline. That’s not to say that people don’t read blogs anymore, as I don’t think that’s the case. What I do see, however, is a decrease in the number of bloggers who have stuck with blogging for a long time. I can count on one hand1Maybe two hands. But that’s only if I’m being generous or if I’m forgetting a lot of people. the number of bloggers who I’ve seen stick with blogging over the past three years. There’s new bloggers out there who write good content, but for every one new blogger I’ve seen, I can think of three or four that have stopped.

I do see other bloggers doing great things. I’ve watched Laidig grow her blog significantly over the past year. Tabitha does some of the better written posts you’ll come across. Todd does some quality (and frequent) work on his blog. There’s other great writers out there (even non-bloggers) who are doing great work that leaves me inspired to improve what I do each day.

In light of all of this, I think there’s definitely some value to setting some goals for my blog. Here’s the goals I’m setting for 2018, along with a short explanation of why I’m setting each. I recognize the numbers I’ll be mentioning below aren’t big numbers, but you have to start somewhere.

  • 20 new WordPress followers – This blog doesn’t have a ton of WordPress followers, as I get a decent amount of my traffic via my various social media accounts. That said, I did pick up 16 new WordPress followers last year, bringing the site’s total to 29. I’d like to think that picking up 5 new followers per quarter (on average) isn’t particularly outlandish as a goal.
  • Average 250 visits a month – Last year, That Tiny Website averaged 197 visits a month. On one hand, that was a great thing to see, as it was this site’s best year ever. On the other hand, my previous blog’s worst full year saw an average of 245 visits per month. This will be the site’s third full year in existence and second one where I’m writing fairly regularly. I don’t want to be lagging behind my old work anymore. I recognize that this is around a 27% growth number, but I’d like to think I can hit it.
  • Grow comment count by 20% again – My blog comment totals got thrown all out of whack when I migrated from WordPress.com to a self-hosted blog2Through my own error. I didn’t follow directions well.. As such, the only comment data I have is from 2016 and 2017, where I went from 102 comments to 122. Ideally, I’d like to see a similar percentage increase this year, which would mean 147 comments on this blog this year.

I realize that none of this will be able to be done without the help of you, those who are reading my blog. Some of you have been reading and interacting with me for quite a while. For that, I thank you. Others of you are likely new to this blog. Welcome. I hope you stick around a while.

 

What are some of your goals for the new year? If you’re a blogger, podcaster, YouTuber, or other creator, what are some of your personal growth goals for 2018? Sound off in the comments.

On Truly Changing Your Ways

On my old blog1One of the old blogs. I’ve had 4 now, with this one being the second longest running of them., I used to make these attempts at really deep posts as my first post for the new year. I’ve only done one such post to start a year on this blog — mostly because I try to do those posts a little more frequently than once a year now. That said, there’s a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now that I felt would be perfect for a start of the year introspection2Shout out to said old blog. post.

When I was younger, I was not a good person. While I tried to do what was right, or at least what I perceived to be right, my instincts as to what was right and what was wrong weren’t particularly well-tuned. One particularly vivid example of this comes from relatively early childhood. From the time when I was in third grade through fifth grade3Roughly ages 9-11., I went to a babysitter before school. My brother and I would get dropped off by my dad at around 530 in the morning, then stay at the babysitter’s until around 745, when we’d start our walk to school. At the peak during the three years I went to the babysitter’s, there eleven kids there each morning, all but one between the ages of 7 and 13. The babysitter wasn’t good at managing our behavior in retrospect, though that doesn’t excuse some of what happened at her house.

One of the kids being babysat at that house was a boy named Ross4As is almost always the case with personal stories, names have been changed to protect the innocent.. Ross had a fairly severe developmental disorder, though I couldn’t tell you what it was. Because of this, Ross was one of the most common targets of bullying at the babysitter’s. Ten-year-old me was a fan of this, because it meant that I wasn’t the kid being bullied anymore, as I had been for the first year I went to the babysitter.

It was a nearly daily occurrence that someone called Ross names or tried to anger him. The babysitter’s solution to fixing problems to was to spank whichever kid she saw causing the “problem” that happened to be occurring. Since Ross couldn’t talk well, this meant that Ross regularly found himself getting spanked. This happened in spite of the fact that Ross was bigger than most anyone at the babysitter’s. There were times where Ross got in a fight with another one of the kids and kicked the crap out of them, not just because he was bigger and stronger than them, but also because he didn’t know when to stop. A few times, the babysitter pulled Ross off of one of the kids during a fight, only for him to keep right on swinging his fists and biting in the air.

I never got into any sort of physical altercation with Ross. I think ten-year-old me knew full well that Ross would have kicked the shit out of me had I done anything violent towards him. But I was one of the people who called him names. I didn’t treat Ross with respect. If anything, I was so worried about making sure I wasn’t the one being bullied any longer that I encouraged those who had bullied me to act poorly toward Ross. Self-preservation was my goal. It was also the wrong thing to do.

I haven’t seen Ross in over twelve years. Though he was the same age as me, he didn’t graduate at the same time as my graduating class5If memory serves, my school’s MRDD program (as they called it) schooled those with developmental disabilities until age 21.. I tried my best to act nice towards him on the rare occasion I did see him in high school, however such interactions were few and far between. I can say for certain that I never made amends for the way I, or anyone else, treated him at the babysitter’s.

In the first paragraph of this post, I mentioned that there’s an idea that’s been going around in my head for a while now that I wanted to talk about. That idea is, at its core, nothing more than a simple question.

How do you make amends for past mistakes when you can’t directly make things better for the person you wronged?

I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this question. While there are certainly no perfect people in this world, there’s also a lot of people who have been really shitty people at some point in their past. Cracked did a pretty good post about people who have made mistakes in the past and have done their best to make amends for those mistakes. The one that sticks out to me from that post is #7 — Eddie Murphy’s change from performing an anti-gay, AIDS panic-filled comedy routine in the 1980s to donating a lot of time and money to AIDS research (amongst other charities).

While I don’t believe that donating money to charity makes past wrongs right, I do believe it is a step to help show change toward becoming a better person who has learned from their mistakes6Especially if the charity in question does work to help prevent wrongs, raise awareness for something you were ignorant about, or something along those lines.. Equally, if not more, important than giving money to charity is to make changes to our actions so as not to repeat the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. If you’re insensitive with your words, learn to speak with more thought and care in your words. If you’ve treated someone with disrespect, make sure that future similar interactions (be that with the same person or not) are ones that convey respect and empathy.

I realize I’m being a bit vague in my wording in that last paragraph. It’s because there’s so many mistakes that we make as people who addressing every single one in a blog post would turn this post into an 80,000 word epic. But I do think it’s possible to improve ourselves and chance ourselves so we don’t repeat the same mistakes we’ve made in our past. I know it’s something I try to do regularly — be that atoning for mistakes I’ve shared on this blog or those I have not. I want to continue to be a better person. I think we all do. And the best way to do that is not to ignore the mistakes we’ve made, but to use them to fuel us to improve ourselves. This is doubly true if there’s no way to atone for our mistake directly to the person who felt the results of our mistakes.

Why I’ve (Sort of) Changed my Opinion on Thank You Cards

A couple of years ago, I wrote a lengthy, expletive-laced tirade about my distaste for thank you cards. In retrospect, the post was arguably one of the worst I’ve ever written for this blog — or any blog I’ve written for over the past 13 or so years. If you’re the type of person that likes getting made at someone on the internet for no reason, feel free to read that post and get mad at me. Even with improvements to the post after I realized that it was hot garbage, it’s still one I cringe while reading.

The strange thing is that I don’t even fully disagree with the primary point I was attempting to make in the post itself. Thank you cards are, as a concept, pretty annoying. Recipients don’t really want them, the sender doesn’t want to put the time into writing it and going to the post office, and the post office isn’t making much money1If any at all. off of a simple card. In general, I still see the thank you card as a flawed and ultimately poor way to show gratitude.

Notice how I specifically called out the thank you card in the last paragraph. This is because I think there’s a far better way to show gratitude to someone who has done something for us — a way that should become the cultural standard for how we handle saying thank you. It’s a way that’s been right under our noses the whole time. I’m speaking, of course, about the thank you email.

I can practically hear my millennial brethren cringing at that last suggestion. The email, the phone call, and the voicemail are becoming antiquated methods of communication among millennials and younger. A former co-worker of mine once2In early 2017. said that they don’t call any co-worker back who leaves them a voicemail because “if they didn’t find it important enough to IM me, it must not be important”. Throwing aside my own disagreements with that philosophy, I get where the person was coming from. Social media has created the need for instantaneous interaction and communication. To provide a delay from that makes the communication seem less valued, at least in part.

The problem with that logic, however, is that it can often take time, as well as careful wording, to show gratitude that seems genuine. That’s not to say you can’t thank someone with a quick “thanks” in passing. But since we live in an interconnected world where most interactions are not occurring face-to-face, most moments where we’re showing how grateful we are for someone’s help are conducted remotely and in real time. So how then do we set ourselves apart from everyone else also looking to show their thanks? Slow things down.

I’ve been on the job hunt for a little while now3As I mentioned in last week’s post, I tend to write these posts well in advance. This post, like the last one, was written in October. That said, I felt like gratitude and saying thank you was a good topic to discuss on Christmas Day., meaning I’ve filled out copious amounts of applications, received more rejection emails than I’d care to admit, and have attended a small handful of interviews. One thing I’ve tried my hardest to do is to write the recruiter, interviewer, or whomever I have contact information for a thank you email after every interview I have. I realize it’s small and, to this point, has meant very little in my job search. That said, I’ve found that my interactions with the hiring staff at the companies I’ve interacted with have been better than any I’ve experienced before.

I recognize it’s not a very deep thought to say “hey…you should be sending a thank you email to the people who interview you, even if you don’t get a job with them”. It’s pretty much interviewing 101. But at the same point in time, I don’t see people doing it that often — both from my own experiences as an interviewer, as well as from what I’ve heard being an interviewee myself. Therefore, in this one case, I think the concept of a thank you card must become more common, even if the literal thank you card itself is left in the sands of time for it.

Wanted For Immediate Employerment: Somewhere That Fuels Passion

I hate when people say that school — be that high school, college, or some other form of education — doesn’t prepare you for the real world. Categorically, the statement is false. Education teaches us many skills even beyond those we learn in the classroom, such as critical thinking, interpersonal communication, honesty, and compassion1At the very least, if you’re taking school even a little seriously, you get some of this out of school..

That said, there is some validity to the statement. There are a handful of things that schools don’t do a particularly good job of preparing students for the non-school world on. As a rule of thumb, these items are money-driven items that American society puts low value on, yet are critical to being a successful adult. In my estimation, that list includes, but is not limited to, the following items.

  • Money management/balancing a checkbook
  • Interviewing
  • Job searching
  • Not being a jerk to people on the internet
  • Developing relationships with people you don’t see in person (think telecommuters or companies that have many interconnected offices globally)

I want to use today’s post to talk about the third item on that list. Hunting for a job is a surprisingly stressful part of adult life. With the explosion of technology over the last decade and a half, the way employees look for a job, as well as the way companies search for potential employees, has changed drastically.

The way I got my first job was pretty much the same way my dad and my grandfather got their first jobs. I walked into the pizza shop down the road from my house, asked if they were hiring, filled out an application, interviewed, and got hired. With no experience and minimal in terms of marketable skills, I managed to land my first job at the age of 14 the same way people I knew had done so in the 1970s and 1950s. I had a similarly easy experience looking for my next two jobs. I got a job in my college dorm at age 18 and a job as a cook in a restaurant at age 20 via the exact same method.

To be clear, all three of those situations came before the era of Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, and other job boards dominating the job hunting market. But I was still proud of getting them. I really didn’t care what I was doing at the time. I was happy to be able to have money to pay bills. I wasn’t about to let myself end up in a situation where I couldn’t support myself2Or others in my life in the future, which was, stunningly, a thought on my mind at age 14..

It’s been about 16 years since I got my first job. The job searching experience has grossly changed since then. While you could (I’m certain) still walk into some businesses and try to get a job the same way I did when I was 14, the more practical and prudent thing to do is to review online job boards or company websites to look for jobs. This isn’t necessarily a bad change. A major advantage to the job board culture is the ability for job seekers to be exposed to companies and jobs they would never have otherwise heard of without that technology.

There are, however, a couple of major problems with the job board culture. For whatever reason, most companies don’t put salary or salary ranges on job postings online. I can’t imagine what the companies are trying to avoid by doing that3Wage discrimination lawsuits. It’s wage discrimination lawsuits.. This has slowed down my own personal job search drastically, as many companies write their job descriptions for people that have more experience than what they’re actually looking for. Which is fine. You’re not going to get the perfect candidate more often than not, so aim high so that you still get the things you need if you fall short. But it’s incredibly disheartening as a job seeker to get into the interviewing process only to find out that a job requiring 3-5 of job-field experience only pays entry level salary4For non-US readers, in the US, it is often considered unprofessional to ask about salary for a job prior to the offer letter stage. I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago when a company told me they wouldn’t be continuing the interview process because I asked about salary during the HR screening..

The second, and arguably more important thing, missing from most job board postings is why the job matters. I realize that having a passion for what you do isn’t a draw to a job for some people. As an interviewer, I’ve had people tell me that they’re looking for a job for a paycheck and nothing more. And that’s fine. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I also recognize that people have their own motivations and needs. What’s important to the person sitting across the table from me in an interview, regardless of which side of the interview I’m on, is not necessarily the same thing that’s important to me.

That very fact also makes job searching incredibly difficult. As a job seeker, you can’t just go to a job posting and figure out if most positions are going to make you feel good about what you do purely from reading the job description. Granted, some positions make it completely obvious whether or not you’re doing the right thing at the job you’re applying for. But in most situations, it’ll require more research to determine if the company you’re considering applying to is ethical, responsible, charitable, or whatever you’re looking for in an employer. You should be researching companies you’re considering working for anyway. It’s the responsible thing to do as a job seeker. But to not see those factors in a job posting makes the job seeker’s path much harder5Nevermind the fact that job postings are still a bit of marketing from a company. They want to put their best foot forward to attract the best talent possible. If this means not mentioning your company’s flaws, that’s not misleading, that’s responsible marketing. Remember rule #2 of this blog: Everything is marketing..

So how do you, as a job seeker, find a job that fulfills your passion? I really wish I had a good answer to give, especially after making you read 1000 words already before getting to that question6Let’s be real though. If you’re still reading at this point, you like long-form reads. I don’t do non-long-form pieces, at least not generally.. I’m going through my own job search now — and have been for a few months now — and I’ve yet to find a job that screams ‘You will care about this’ to me. Of course, by the time this posts, that could change7I tend to write my posts 3-6 weeks in advance, as I only (usually) have one post go up a week. So I’m writing this in mid-October.. But as of when I’m writing it, not so much.

I want to care about what I do. I want to feel like what I do has a positive impact on people — be it those I work with directly or those that my company works with directly. I want the company I work for to be transparent and honest about its directives and actions, as well as its purpose. That’s not to say previous or current companies I’ve worked for have or haven’t done this. That said, I do know what I want in the future. And it’s hard to find. Especially since there’s no job board for employees seeking work with purpose.