Latte, Red Bull and an Iced Coffee…

This isn’t some new concoction from one of your favorite coffee establishments. This is the amount of liquid caffeine I consumed in one day to relieve me from my tired state last Wednesday. Big exam? Fear of flying? Couldn’t stay awake? None of these reasons fit the bill for my caffeine overload. The funny thing is: I’ve never been a coffee drinker. At my last full-time job, I was in awe of the frequency and voracity in which my coworkers chugged their multiple cups of coffee by 10am, while I stood by and drank my Red Bull.

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I am becoming one of them! My caffeine threshold has increased dramatically and I hadn’t realized. My new addiction stems from the anxiety of being unemployed. Sure, I’ve had some freelance gigs here and there, but they have run out and I’m getting antsy. Yeah! And it’s evident with my new go-to-pick-me-ups! But, Red Bull you say. Why? I just love the taste. My BF thinks it smells and tastes like gasoline. Whatever! He smokes. You decide which is the lesser of the two evils. For me, Red Bull reminds me of the Cuban soda, Materva. It tastes like sweet little golden goodness in a 12 oz. can I was given – beginning at a young age to accompany the pork, rice and beans I was fed for most of my childhood. When I sip Red Bull, it immediately takes me back to festive birthdays, family gatherings and all-around, carefree good times sans the stresses of adult life. I just can’t have too much of the stuff, even though I want to. At work events, where the Red Bull was flowing aplenty, I once ingested two of these drinks in less than an hour and my heart started beating unusually fast. On another day, I bought its 12oz. older cousin, because I thought I had graduated into the “big-boy” energy drink league and, no, it wasn’t for me – or better yet, my body decided and rejected the extra 3.6 oz.; it wasn’t used to breaking down. I heeded my body’s advice and stuck to the regular 8.4 oz. can. But then I started drinking them every day because I discovered BJs. The price club warehouse that lets you buy large quantities of food and drink in bulk; Red Bull included. 48 little cans of deliciousness were stocked in my apartment. Every morning I’d wake up and reach for a red, silver and blue can. It would get me through – at least half the day – then I’d crash and feel sluggish. But, hey! Aren’t most people productive the first half of their day anyway?

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I had managed to wean myself off of Red Bull because I stopped buying the cases in bulk. Who needs this energy drink taking up space in their apartment? I thought. I would occasionally buy it 3x a week – ONLY if it was $2.00, though – I refuse to spend the marked up $2.50 price tag found in most New York stores. I feel better about my indulgences, if I can get a discount on them. Although lately the little can has crept back into my life like an unwanted wart that you can’t get rid of. Yet, now the 8.4 oz. isn’t keeping me caffeinated half of the day. What gives? I’ve developed an immunity to the stuff and need to supplement with lattes and iced coffees and end up watching old Charles Bronson movies – which by the way – are incredibly violent, and more so at 4:30am. I will not repeat this experiment and keep my caffeinated beverages to something manageable so sleep won’t abandon me or try to conform to the 2.1 cups of coffee per day Americans consume, as recorded by the latest national average studies. I’m now a coffee drinker.

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Don’t Blame U.S.!

Boobstogether

The first time I traveled to a non-Spanish Speaking European country was in my early 20s. I had lived in Spain for a year after leaving Cuba when I was four, but most of my memories of Spain are visiting zoos and bitterly cold wind engulfing my little face. This time around traveling to France, Germany and Amsterdam, I didn’t know what to expect. I had bought the book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Europe – to make sure I didn’t mess up greetings or customs integral to these countries’ way of life – we all know Americans have been known to commit serious faux pas.

I noticed in France, when I spoke English, some of the waiters/waitresses or store clerks weren’t very receptive. They’d answer me, because they were forced to, as I was a paying customer, begrudgingly nonetheless. As my friends and I traveled through these European streets we realized there were a lot of Canadians wearing backpacks with their flags visibly stitched on. Why would they do this? I wondered. On my fourth day in France, I finally asked a blonde book-wormish looking girl staying at our hostel and she said: “Oh, we don’t want to be confused with being American.” “Why?” I inquired. “Because of Bush, you know, nobody respects him.” It was 1999 and George W. Bush was well on his way to becoming the Republican nominee. Now it all made sense to me. The Clinton era was coming to an end and the Republicans were assuming power with Bush at the helm; the sentiment was that he was a self-fulfilling tyrant with no education; felt by these traveling Canadian citizens, and shared by the people I’d come to meet in the countries I’d soon visit. My traveling companions didn’t fare any better with the French citizens. Jen, my neighborly, pet-loving, wouldn’t-hurt-a-living-creature, blonde friend from Syracuse was almost assaulted by the subway clerk when she asked if she could use her American dollars to pay the train fare. “Noooo! French Francs! French Francs! French Francs!” At first glance, it seemed as if this clerk had a bout of severe Tourette’s; screaming at the top of her lungs at Jen, but it was clear she had some serious animosity towards Americans. I started speaking Spanish soon after this incident in bakeries, banks, hotdog and crepe stands – anywhere I had to interact with the public. I readily admitted I was Cuban and my exchanges with the French citizens were pretty smooth for me after that.

My early experiences in France recently came to mind as I read this Washington Post article I came across:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/americans-vacationing-overseas-find-themselves-on-a-donald-trump-apology-tour/2016/08/11/cb6b30ac-5fd1-11e6-af8e-54aa2e849447_story.html

Here we are in August, no travel plans in sight because of my freelance status, and I was having extreme vacation-envy from friends posting their fabulous photos on all my social media feeds. But, I hadn’t thought about what this article points out: Americans traveling overseas are having to explain why Trump is the GOP candidate for the upcoming 2016 presidential elections OR apologizing for the outrageous statements he’s made through the course of his campaign. I feel better about my stay-cationing activities. I don’t have to explain to anyone the state of our political climate because we’re all facing the same crisis. But, when you travel abroad, foreigners expect you to come up with an answer as to why America would realistically elect someone “like him.” For me, this would get annoying and intolerable really quick. It’s like running into “that” neighbor, acquaintance, enemy, ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend or work colleague in the street or any place you frequent and engaging in idle chit-chat, and all the while it’s happening, you’d rather be anywhere but there: long lines at the DMV, the dentist wreaking havoc on your mouth coupled with his sardine breath, Times Square during tree-lighting season; you’d rather do all these things rather than talk to this said person(s). So no FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) for me, you can take the weight of Trumplaining – off my shoulders and I will visit Jones Beach with it’s 20-foot high drown-worthy waves, and freezing black water. Have fun travelers!

Yes…this happened.

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I don’t even wear enough make up to merit the $200 price tag the Kylie Jenner Birthday Bundle costs. Why entertain this? Because it’s exclusive and we’ve been conditioned to seek out and covet what’s unattainable. Or it could be that I’m a Leo and it’s special to those born on this Zodiac sign. I have no clue which one of these reasons is clouding my better judgment; what I do know is that I found myself gearing up for the KY-tastic sale last Wednesday at 6pm  EST. With three devices in hand, I was ready to spend my hard-earned freelance money on KYshadow, poppin’ gloss, the exclusive Leo lip kits and the Kylie makeup bag. Alas, I could not get my hands on these beauty products. I spent 27 minutes refreshing like nobody’s business with zero results. A half hour not well spent. I get it. I was under the Kardashian-Jenner juggernaut spell. It’s mindboggling to think that this teen – just alone with the birthday bundle @ $200 each – sold over 200K units in less than half an hour. Kudos to you, babe!

Refinery29 recently wrote an article – complete with Kylie Jenner illustrations – on her “Queen of Instagram” status. All of her Selfie poses are deliberate, the fashion/beauty pop-culture website claims. Not just some run-of-the-mill: “Hey, look at me. I’m snappin’ a pic of myself.” Ultimately it’s to sell a brand. And, love her or hate her, she does it well with a huge following!

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I had to experience this frenzy for myself, being a pop-culture junkie. What’s the tally now between the Kardashian-Jenners’ fortunes? One billion? For me, the thrill of the chase was reminiscent of my childhood – back in the 80s, before social media and massive swarms of people crashing sites. When I was 8 years old, my mom fought the good fight to get me the latest Cabbage Patch Kids. As a child I don’t recall people fighting, it was more like rude shoving, nobody was getting mauled or trampled in stores and malls, yet. My mother had created a distraction at the Toys-R-Us to get her hands on one of the last twin Cabbage Patch preemies for me. She had a water balloon in her purse – thanks to the kids she babysat. With one swift toss of the water balloon, she distracted parents to get the last set of twins.

Today, it’s a combination of star power with enough influence to sell products and the speed of your Internet service to get your “exclusive in-demand product” checked out!

 

Q&A with the Fabulously Fierce & Creative: Denise Harris

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Courtesy of Denise Harris

People say one should excel at one thing in life, but not this lady. She’s broken conventions by mastering the skills of creative design and fitness guru. She’s making a name for herself in the highly competitive personal training arena, recently adding a celebrity clientele to her training sessions by word-of-mouth referrals, a recent article published by Vogue.com – and all around hard work and determination.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Denise Harris and asking her about her passions, fitness, freelance life and how they intersect in her journey to happiness.

DSMC: What’s your current profession?

DH: I’m a personal trainer/Pilates instructor who freelances as a designer for various art departments at print magazines. And, occasionally I design lookbooks and website redesigns for friends and colleagues.

DSMC: How long have you been freelancing?

DH: A little over 7 years.

DSMC: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a freelancer?

DH: Finding a good environment to work in. Oftentimes, I come into these situations with editorial magazines where expectations of freelancers are unrealistic. The Creative Director or Art Director quote you a rate, usually a day rate, you accept and then they ask you to work extra hours without amending the day rate. Budgets are a big issue! That interferes with training clients and my personal time.

DSMC: That’s unfair. Kind of presumptuous of them to assume you can stay all night working on a project.

DH: It happens more often than I’d like, but I want to get to a point in my life where I do freelance design 30% of the time and train my clients 70%. I still want to learn and improve my skills as a designer by keeping current with design trends. I think it’s important to stay relevant in any field you pursue.

DSMC: When did you start getting into fitness and making it into a career?

DH: I’ve always loved working out. I was the art director for a magazine and I was tasked with holding meetings, making sure all the changes made by the Editor-in-Chief were funneled through me. I was constantly running around making sure everyone was in the loop and it was exhausting. The work I was doing didn’t matter to me. It made no impact on my life. I was looking for something that was rewarding; that made me happy. I started asking trainers and fitness editors about the best Pilates schools in the states and internationally. Eventually, I began applying to Pilates schools and was accepted to a school in Toronto.

DSMC: Toronto, that’s far, no?

DH: It was, but I had an epiphany. I decided that this is what I wanted to do: become a licensed Pilates instructor. I desperately needed a change to refuel and thought going to a school to Toronto was it! I quit my job – had no savings and used my 401k for expenses – I took a chance. Believe me, it was scary. I took a leap of faith and tried to get a job in Toronto. It was hard. No one wanted to sponsor me. Eventually after many months, I was able to train members at gym a few days a week. I had help from family members to help pay the bills and when I felt discouraged, they gave me strength to persevere….And I guess I found it within myself too.

DSMC: It sounds like you’re successfully paving your way to achieve your goals. What advice would you give aspiring designers looking to break in to the industry and/or professionals eager to make a drastic career change to pursue their passions? Continue reading →

Choosing Career Coaches with the Mostest and the Leastest?

 

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Actively looking for a full time job that I can settle into for close to a year and a half can leave you craving for stability, in the worst way. I miss the days of passing around the umpteenth birthday card to sign – in a month’s time, listening to a coworker drone on about their weekend or weird dream; sabotaging your diet because yet another colleague brought in cookies, cupcakes or an oddly lopsided appetizing strudel. Yes, people under 40 make strudels? I thought that too.

When my position was eliminated, as part of my “going away” package – my company offered me the option of enlisting a career services agency to assist with transitioning. Their exact phrase! I was transitioning into a new phase of my life, not in the Bruce Jenner-to-Caitlin Jenner way, but exploring new opportunities away from publishing that I could assume. At first, I felt useful, getting up every morning with a sense of purpose, going to the agency and participating in workshops, meeting other displaced professionals in the same downsized boat. What I found was that even though there were resources there to help in your job search; printers, faxes, private offices, phones and all the amenities you took for granted at your old job – these former HR professionals were behind the times. They were disseminating information to us as if it was 1999. Three page cover letters? Cold call potential employers? Faxing resumes? With people’s attention spans’ similar to that of a toddler’s, how in the world are you supposed to get noticed by hiring managers with these outdated tips? Regardless, I kept going to the agency for the duration of the 6 months I was allotted for the flavored coffee, air-conditioning and free printing services.

One piece of advice I did take was to visit the Science, Industry and Business Library on 35th and Madison. When my time was up at the agency, I spent my days between SIBL and the Department of Labor (free printing services) researching career programs and new coaches. Using Lynda.com for free. Yup! With your library card number (listed on the back of the card) you can access any of the thousands of courses on the site. Check out: http://www.nypl.org for many of the services and programs they offer.

One coach at the DOL boasted how he was on CNN, AOL, NBC, BBC and every other 3-letter acronym affiliated with a network he could blab about. He was adamant about not wasting your time with the gatekeepers; instead taking time to look up the emails to the hiring managers: the decision-makers. I’ve been doing this all along, but for those that haven’t attempted to do this, it’s a great tip. “Don’t submit as the button urges you to do on that online job application. You are better than that!” He shouted. “You shouldn’t submit to anyone” Ok, I thought, yeah that’s one approach. But, sometimes when you do that and contact the hiring manager directly, they steer you to the company site. It’s happened to me many times. So! You take your chances and see who will respond.

What you have to watch out for with these career coaches, hired by the library and DOL and funded by state is the vague career advice they offer up front so that you can buy their coaching services. Be weary. I’ve seen my share of career coaches that have said everything from: “Don’t even bother with the jobs online. Those are the positions nobody wants” to “The only way you’ll get a job is if you network.” Being in this job search game for a while, I’d say: Spend 30% applying for jobs online – the jobs you’ve discovered, be honest with yourself and determine if you have half of the job requirements listed, 40% of your time writing to hiring managers at your dream companies and spend 30% of your time researching groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and meetups in your industry. I’ve gone to most of these events by myself. It was painstakingly hard, but if I can do it, you can do it.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.49.30 PM.pngOne coach I thought was useful to my career branding techniques, because of his transparency and patience is Thomas Powner. At first glance, he looks like a retired police officer, but once he starts speaking and showing his slides on the Continue reading →

In The Midst of Uncertainty…Exercise!

 

IMG_2762I’ve finally come to understand what those fitness fiends and doctors have been preaching all along. Get up! And get moving! – If not for your health – for your mental state. I typically ride 3x a week. I’m not one of those people that gets excited by indoor gym facilities, unless they smell like Eucalyptus, have impeccably clean and warm towels within arm’s reach; a misting spray that you accidentally ingest, start coughing, but kinda of like because it raises your body temparture and cools you off – typically found in fancy resort hotels.

Freelancing for over a year and sans full-time job, I’ve taken up bike riding on my spare time. Oh, I call myself a renegade now, because I recently went over 3 NYC bridges in one day  with my cycling phenom BF. But, a freakish childhood incident with me riding on the handlebars of my cousin’s unsteady bicycle at age 7 scarred my psyche. We were riding on the crooked, unpaved streets of Washington Heights and with one sudden turn, I was ejected from the handlebars and left face down with a bloodied face, stitches, and the denouncement of bicycles for the rest of my life!

Then 4 years ago, I received an email from bikenyc.org with a schedule of free classes for adult and children Learn-to-ride 2 hour classes. It was one of those random emails you get and wonder how you got on their mailing list. I went to a few classes at East River Park and Prospect Park, but couldn’t get the hang of it. Adults of all ages, races and religions brave these classes. Depending on your riding level, they offer a variety of classes throughout the spring and summer with volunteers. For the first half hour, you coast on a pedal-less bike with helmet in tow, provided by the group. At the East River Park, it’s outdoors where everyone could see you. And this little child gang kept hovering over our area and it was unsettling. These little show-offs kept riding around taunting and laughing at us. I gave up and went home. I tried the following year in Park Slope but found the location of the class was on a hill that I couldn’t conquer. Then last year rolled around and I had more time to explore classes offered during the week. Roosevelt Island! Yes, it was a bit of a trek for me, but it was an indoor gymnasium with padded walls. It screamed safety and I loved it; a crash test playground for adult human dummies. After 3 visits, not only was I coasting my little heart out, I was pedaling. Yippee! I had one of the volunteers film me. Not because I was succumbing to the narcissistic society we currently live in to document everything we do, but because I had to provide proof to my cynical friends and relatives.

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Nowadays, I ride along the streets of North Bergen and Hoboken and listen to “Fly Like an Eagle” to rid myself of my day’s worries with the airy, saltwater breeze hitting my face. I still freeze and feel unnerved when I come across busy intersections; and pretend to get on the sidewalk, as if that was my intended destination. In actuality, it’s that I can’t hold my bike line, but I’m a work-in-progress…..and, aren’t we all?