Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

roadtrip2010by Brooke Allen

Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

That’s what I’m thinking, at least.

That’s to say, when I’m thinking at all.

One nice thing is…
… what was I thinking? Hmmm…
… I know, I was thinking how wonderful it is that there can be thirty miles between one thought and the next. What are those? A herd of moose? Some farmer is raising moose? Those clouds seem ominous. I wonder if we’ll see a tornado this trip. I’ve really got to fart. That dog with his head out the window looks like he is having the time of his life. Davis and Zhenia are asleep; if I squeeze one out I don’t think they’ll notice. There goes a van covered in playa dust.

What is today? Saturday? If it’s Saturday then it’s been a week since the Man burned. If it’s Sunday then it’s been a week since the Temple burned, but we didn’t get to see that. I wonder if I ever will. It can’t be Friday; the traffic doesn’t seem right for a work day. Monday would be too long; it hasn’t been much more than a week since we snuck out of Black Rock City before dawn, ahead of the crowds.

This feels nice; really really nice. It feels like love; as snug as five hippies in a VW bug.

Except that we’re in our white 1996 Isuzu mini-van; three across in the bench seat in the middle. I’m on the right, wedged between my son in the middle and the door on the right. I have a pillow between the window and me to keep my head from rattling against the glass as I drift in and out.

It’s 2010 and my son, Davis, has just graduated from McGill in Montreal with a bachelor’s in physics. He’s fast asleep, head back, not snoring but making the occasional gurgling noises one does as your throat fills with saliva.

Wedged between Davis and the door on the left is Zhenia, a few years younger than Davis. She’s still in college. She’s the black adopted daughter of my best friend, Andy. He’s Ukrainian-American and was named André at birth and that is what he insists people call him now. But when we were housemates in college in the early 1970’s he wanted to be known as Andy. I think he wanted to fit in then. Now, I think he wants to stand out.

Andy’s driving. My wife, Eve, is riding shotgun. She’s my better-than-best best friend – a lover-of-life; my lover. I love our life together.

I feel a seismic disturbance. Davis is fast asleep but Zhenia is stirring and her motions are transmitted through my son’s body to me.

threeofusatburningmanI lean forward to see past my son. Zhenia’s coming up out of slumber. She’s struggling to get her hand in her pocket.

Shit. She’s going for her phone. Please, God, no. We’ve been off-grid for two weeks and it’s been bliss.

It’s a mighty struggle to get her hand into her pocket without waking Davis. She sees that I’m watching her. Softly, she says, “Next time, let’s take our van. It has four captain’s seats in the back.”

I look at her pleadingly. I hope she can feel what I feel and know what I know. Has she learned how to read minds yet? I hope so.

She gives up on her quest. She looks at me for a minute or so. Then she says, “Actually, this is pretty good.” She slumps back, rearranges her pillow and goes silent. I hope it’s insight and not laziness.

I lean back against my pillow and let my mind wander in wonder. Why would a farmer in Iowa raise moose? Does he sell them for meat? Or, do people keep moose as pets. Google knows, I’m sure.

But, what motivates this particular farmer? I guess we could go back and ask.

I think back to the horse ranch near Provo that we found on the way out. Remember? We stopped and asked if we could ride their horses, and they said, “Sure.” Then we said we didn’t know how to ride and they said, “We’ll teach you.” Now, you remember, don’t you? Surely, you remember that a few years ago their daughter moved out of the house into an apartment she built in the barn just to be closer to her horses. How cool is that?

Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

That’s what I’m thinking, at least.

When is you next road trip?

Will you take me with you?

Please.

The secret to a higher salary is to ask for nothing at all

i want more, 3D rendering, rough street sign collection

by Brooke Allen 

More than twenty years ago, I developed a powerful approach to negotiating that goes beyond “win-win.” It involves starting by offering the most and asking for the least. It works extremely well, but I was unable to explain why until I read Wharton professor Adam Grant’s excellent new book Give and Take.

Adam identifies three types of people: Takers try to get as much as possible from others, matchers seek an even trade, and givers contribute without expectation of return.

Previously, I’d thought of things more in terms of debt and honor.

My parents raised me to believe that borrowing and then not returning is the moral equivalent of stealing. Put in the language of giving and taking, borrowing is a form of taking where I get what I want now and put my honor at risk in the future. Repaying my debt later only elevates me to the status of matcher, but not giver.

Eventually, I came to see that getting paid a salary in advance of delivering value is a form of debt. In 1992, I accepted a job that came with a bonus guarantee. Almost immediately, the unit I worked for was disbanded and they paid both the guarantee and a severance. It was the first time in my career that I was paid more than I delivered, and I felt I was left with a debt I could never repay. That is when I changed how I negotiate contracts.

The typical approach is for both sides to demand something unreasonable—but not let on that they consider it unreasonable—and then negotiate a “compromise” in the hopes that you will end up closer to your side than the midpoint. Even when the final agreement is declared a “win-win,” this approach backfires because it begins with acts of unreasonableness, selfishness, and distrust.

The next time I had to negotiate a contract, it began in typical fashion with a prospective employer sending me a lopsided agreement and asking me to counter-propose. I said I was incompetent to do that and suggested they write a new contract as if they were me, putting in everything that would be in my best interests, and then taking out everything they would never agree to. Since that would be the best I could get, I would accept it subject to agreement on compensation.

We started with base pay. I wrote down the least I would work for and asked them to write down the most they would offer a perfect person, irrespective of whether I was that person or not. If when we exchanged papers, their number wasn’t higher than mine then we could stop there and save time. Their number was twice the best base pay I had ever received in past jobs, and my request was for $0. I explained that my goal is to live a debt-free life, and therefore I wanted to give value before receiving compensation. Continue reading “The secret to a higher salary is to ask for nothing at all”

How to give me a negative reference on LinkedIn

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By: Brooke Allen (you will find my LinkedIn profile here.)

Be aware that on LinkedIn you cannot give me a negative reference unless I approve it.

This is bad news because if it is impossible for you to say something negative, then the positive things I might allow you to say must be taken with a grain of salt.

I want you to give me a fair and balanced reference so others can have an accurate picture of who I am, and I want you to let me know what I’m doing wrong and how I can improve.

But before you give me a negative reference let us establish a few ground rules. Let’s begin with:

Motivation – Why do you want to say what you do? Why do I want to hear it?

Familiarity – How well do you know me and my work?

Rationality – Are you basing your statements on facts and valid reasoning?

Let’s analyze each in more detail…

Continue reading “How to give me a negative reference on LinkedIn”

Want passion? Look for something that makes you angry

WomanWithHair

Whenever I speak at colleges I begin by asking, “Why are you here?”

This catches the students off guard and after batting the question around for a bit someone says, “To find my passion.” The rest agree and they imagine they are done with the topic.

But I am not done with them.

I ask them to define “passion” because if you cannot say what a word means then you are shooting the shit rather than answering a question.

So they discuss that for a while longer and eventually settle on some variant of, “I don’t know what passion is but I’ll know when I have passion for my work because I won’t have to motivate myself to do it.”

“Really?” I say, “Where I come from we have a word for that, and it is ‘like’ as in ‘I like my job.’ But I know I am passionate when I do something even though I hate every second.”

“Why would anyone do a job they hate?” someone asks.

I want to say, “It might be because you have bills to pay and you don’t want to live off your parents or the state.”

But, instead I say, “I don’t know. Why did my dad lie about his age so he could enlist a year earlier than allowed by law to become a paratrooper and jump out of airplanes while the Japanese shot at him? That was something he hated to do, but he did it anyway, and he did it because of something called passion.”

At this point the class looks flummoxed but intrigued. Continue reading “Want passion? Look for something that makes you angry”

You do not need permission to do the right thing. No one can give you permission to do the wrong thing.

I went to college in 1970. By 1974 I had a degree in mathematics and experience hitchhiking  to every state of the union except for Alaska and Hawaii; perhaps 30,000 miles in all.

I learned more about how to live from those experiences than anything I learned in a school. Here is the story of what I learned from a man in the pick-up truck who took my girlfriend and me from central Minnesota to just west of Fargo, North Dakota.

Had I not learned this lesson my life would have been very different; not only would I have been much less inventive I would not have had the courage to stand up to some of the shenanigans I saw during the 30 years I was on Wall Street.

I’ll call him Jeb. I don’t remember his name, but during Prohibition he used to bootleg whisky, so Jeb sounds like a good bootlegger’s name, don’t you think?

He said the pay was good and it was exciting work because the cops were always chasing you, but it wasn’t very intellectual. The only creative thing he learned was the Bootlegger’s K-Turn. He left the Interstate for a side road to show us how it is done. I’ll draw it for you: Continue reading “You do not need permission to do the right thing. No one can give you permission to do the wrong thing.”

I Insist We Call Each Other Perchildren

TwoBrookes

To be clear, this is a call for humor when dealing with a serious subject.
I do not mean to offend. Seriously.

I was born a male with a female name

You cannot believe the kind of childhood trauma I went through and the only way for me to avoid post traumatic stress is for you to change your ways.

In order that you not trigger unfortunate emotions in me I must insist that:

  • You must refer to me as a perchild and I will do the same for you.
  • Rather than use MR (for “mister”) and MS (for whatever that stands for) we must henceforth use PC (for perchild, of course).
  • You must use the pronoun FF when referring to me in the third person because I do not self-identify as binary but rather nothing less than hexadecimal.

I will explain these terms but first I will explain why I insist that you change for my benefit and for the benefit of all the other miserable perchildren who suffer in ways you cannot fathom.

My Horrible History

I was bullied as a child.

You have no idea what kind of wounds can be inflicted on you if an adult imagines you were bullied as a child. When I was young the children I had fun with made fun of my name because I dressed like a boy and my name was Brooke.

My parents called this “teasing” and they said they were having fun with my name, not making fun of me.

I believed them then.

Today, I am enlightened and see that my parents were in cahoots with the bullies. Now, Continue reading “I Insist We Call Each Other Perchildren”