An Unlikely Ally

The first practice of lacrosse season, I had been expecting to drill hard and then probably be benched for the season–like a red shirt in football. In fact, I’d expected every freshman to have the same results. There was one in particular, though, that I wasn’t convinced that was actually a freshman. He barely took his helmet off the entire practice, and he was slightly scrawny, but damn he could move. His footwork was unreal, and it looked like child’s play when he was weaving around defensemen to get to the goal.

Coach kept calling him “Maclean,” as if he hadn’t even glanced at this dude’s first name yet. “Do it again, Maclean,” he called for the fifth time. He barely looked winded as he charged at the defenders again with two other attackers on the wings. This time when he closed in, one of the defenders fell off his man to double team. Maclean backed off in two quick steps and slowed down, wrapping around the fan until the defender fell back to his man. The second the D-man was back in position, Maclean charged. He was in the fan and firing on goal before anyone had a chance to blink.

“Damn,” Ryan said from beside me. He was staring out at the action on the field, obviously itching as much as I was to take our turn in this drill. “He’s fast.”

I nodded, watching the freshman jog away like he didn’t just smoke a senior d-man. “If he doesn’t start, it would only be because he’s a freshman,” I mentioned as Maclean made his way to the water table where he yanked his helmet off to chug the entire bottle. He was definitely blond, but his hair was dark from sweat; somehow, he looked incredibly familiar. When he turned around, I swore under my breath. Connor, I remembered. He was the bitchy kid from the cafeteria.

He glanced over the people staring at him, including me, and turned back to the action happening on the field without saying anything. He seemed completely different from the dude I’d encountered at lunch just a couple of hours ago.

“Huh,” Ryan muttered. “What’s up with him? I’ve never seen Connor Maclean so quiet.”

“You know him?” I hissed, though I wasn’t really sure why this seemed weird to me.

My roommate obviously didn’t either, because he frowned in my direction. “Uh, yeah? He was in my English class last semester, and he’s friends with Gabe. I’m surprised you don’t know him; he’s around often enough.”

I guess he didn’t really recall that I wasn’t around often. I hung out at the Frat house that I’d been pledging to for a while–since most of my friends were in the Fraternity already. “Gabe as is that Gabe? The Canadian one?” I asked, motioning to the tall dark-haired midfielder gearing up.

“Yes, who else?” Ryan frowned at me. “Why are you acting weird? Do you have a problem with Connor?”

I thought about it; I guessed I didn’t really. Other than the run in I’d had with him in the cafeteria when I was already in a bad mood, I really didn’t know him. Probably didn’t have a good enough reason to have a real problem with him. “No, I only half-met him. And only once.”

Ryan continued to stare at me in that dissecting way of his. I’ve told him that it’s pretty creepy, but for whatever reason, he still does it from time-to-time. Thank god Coach blew the whistle loudly and told everyone to get in groups according to their position and year. Ryan wandered over toward where the midis were gathering.

Coach organized us so that we were in teams–Junior and Senior attackers on a team with Freshman and Sophomore defense; Freshman and Sophomore attack with Junior and Senior defense, midfield a mixture. Which meant that Ryan was up field, Cruz was working the face-off against a junior, and Connor Maclean was casually standing beside a Sophomore defenseman (the dude paired up with Connor immediately due to the fact that most our defense wouldn’t be able to keep up with the freshman).

Miraculously, Cruz recovered the ball and headed toward the goal. I kept close to my guy, but kept an eye on Maclean, since we would probably have to surround the guy to stop him from getting to the goal. Connor dropped back on the far-left side of the field, drawing his d-man away from Cruz. My own attacker circled back to the 12 as Cruz dropped behind the crease. Cruz was damn good at controlling the pace, even when he d-man was putting pressure on him, Cruz calmly circled around again.

I saw it happening before it actually happened, but it happened so damn fast that I couldn’t process. Ryan, who happened to be on Connor’s team, cut across the 8 looking for a pass. Cruz overlooked it, but Ry set up a beautiful pick on Connor’s d-man give Connor an opening that the freshman took. Ryan’s defender wasn’t expecting the change off, allowing an extra two steps that Connor may not have had. That was all he needed. Cruz fired a gorgeous pass to Connor, Connor quicked it into the bottom left corner. The goalie didn’t stand a chance.

Connor got several ‘good job’s and helmet smacks, but he didn’t gloat. Or, really, do anything other than say thanks and make his way back into position. He was good, and he knew it too–had to. So why the hell was he so subdued?

A couple of days later, I got my answer.

I was at a party that a fraternity and sorority were co-hosting; not the one I was pledging to, but several of the guys were there. It seemed like most people who were worth knowing were there. I was getting a drink from the kitchen of the house and lo-and-behold, there was Connor Maclean. Again. But this time, he wasn’t even paying attention. He was backed up against the counter with a significantly more muscled dude chewing on his neck. Connor actually seemed pretty bored–checking his phone, and obviously not paying attention to the dude’s affection–but he did have a hand in the guy’s hair.

When he stuffed his phone back in his pocket, Connor said snarkily, “You done yet? We were having a conversation.”

“No, we weren’t,” the dude answered, and his voice sounded vaguely familiar. He grabbed Connor by the waist and lifted him onto the counter. My teammate did not seem amused. Even still, he let the vaguely familiar asshole step between his legs and proceed to grab at Connor’s ass.

This was not something I had any particular desire to see; I cleared my throat loudly, making it clear by my expression that I was annoyed.

“Hey, Ben,” the dude commented, and I couldn’t place where I apparently knew him from. Judging from the size of his biceps alone, I was guessing he was on the football team.

I just grunted a half greeting at him and maintained my annoyed stare.

Connor had been watching me impassively since I’d made the noise, now he rolled his eyes. “Are we bothering you, Benjamin?” He asked in the same bitchy tone he’d used when we’d first run into each other.

“As a matter of fact, Maclean, you are,” I retorted, but before I could continue, he jumped in.

“You don’t have to watch, you know? If we’re bothering you, look somewhere else,” he replied, making a show of wrapping his legs around the football dude’s waist. I almost frowned at him, because he’d seemed completely uninterested before, but before I made a comment, the realization hit me.

I snorted, unable to help myself. Did people still actually give a shit about whether or not someone was gay? Actually, that was a dumb question; I knew they did. I just wasn’t one of them. “Don’t give a damn, man,” I replied motioning between them. “But you’re sitting in front of the beer, and I’m thirsty.”

My response seemed to catch him off guard, and after he blinked owlishly at me for two seconds, he started laughing. With a shove at football dude’s shoulder, he jumped off the counter and stepped out of the way. Football dude reattached himself to Connor immediately. Which was weird and kind of annoying–Connor obviously thought so too with the way his lip curled. I glanced first at the football dude then at Connor studying both and their expressions. I had a bad feeling start to churn in my gut. Impulsively, I said, “Ryan and a couple of the guys on the team are here, come join us.”

He looked surprised again. “Uh, sure?”

The football dude made an irritated noise, tightening his thick arms around my teammate. “I thought we were going to get out of here,” he whined, which made me frown and Connor roll his eyes.

“And when exactly did I say that?” Connor answered, stepping away from the much larger man.

The football dude grunted indignantly. “You’re a fucking cock tease, man. The least you could do is suck me off after all that bullshit.”

Connor’s bright eyes narrowed at the sadly mistaken fucker. “Actually, the least that I could do would be walking away without kicking your ass, but you’re pushing it now.”

I snorted at the idea that Connor would try to maim someone probably three times his size, but the asshole just shook his head and muttered something rude before stalking off. My teammate watched him all the way out of the room before he finally turned to me questioningly. “What?” I snipped. I hadn’t really meant for it to come out bristled, but sometimes, my voice took on a defensive edge without my permission.

He maintained eye contact in a searching way. It wasn’t creepy like Ryan’s stare tended to be. It more seemed like Connor was trying to tell if I was about to lie. “You really don’t care?” He asked quietly.

It took me several seconds to recall what he was referring to, as I was more preoccupied with whether that football asshole was going to cause problems tonight. “No? Why would I? It’s not my cock you’re sucking, and my best friends are into it too.”

Connor’s eyes narrowed, but his response was just, “hmm.”

I rolled my eyes at him and started for the doorway out of the kitchen. I couldn’t make him believe me, and I didn’t care to put the energy into it. He would just have to figure it out for himself. “You coming or what?”

Thin shoulders lifted and dropped subtly. “I guess,” he replied, as if this were the last place he wanted to be. It was a charade though, because I could tell he was relieved to have people backing him up.

This is a short scene I wrote several years ago relating to characters that are largely extras in a work-in-progress novel. Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you have any requests for future pieces, let me know!

New Art Additions

Hey There! Hope you’re enjoying spring; I know winter gave us Michiganders one last snowstorm to say goodbye. This isn’t a provocative article this time, although you’ll see more of those soon, as well as some short fiction that I’ve been toying with. March and April just happened to turn into art months rather than writing, hope you don’t mind!

I’ve added some new work to my gallery, head on over there if you want to see me obsession with flowers (because apparently, I draw a lot of those)!

Here’s a sneak-peak for the new additions:

As always, let me know what you think in the comments!


Humility vs Hypercriticism: Be Nice to Yourself

There is a lesson that I think so many people need to learn but it’s also one that those same people will scoff at. The lesson itself is simple: Be Kind to Yourself.

You just rolled your eyes, didn’t you?

See, we hear this phrase and think, well duh. I am nice to myself; I just treated myself this weekend. Okay, that great! But you were already feeling good, weren’t you?

I’ve been seeing an incredible amount of attention on “Imposter Syndrome” recently on various business and social media cites. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Imposter Syndrome is basically a state of mind where you feel unworthy of your position in life. Unsurprisingly, people are relating this to women in the workplace, but really it extends far beyond this scope. We think things like “I don’t deserve this”, “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t possibly lead that project.” So we watch as someone perhaps less qualified than us takes the role that we want simply because they had the courage to ask while we drowned in self-doubt. This is not an unusual occurrence. I happens far more often than any of us care to admit. We just sit, waiting for someone to recognize our worth for us, when we can’t even see it ourselves. This isn’t humility; it is fear, and it’s a fast-track to bitterness.

This lesson I learned: be kind to yourself, it came to me in a single thought while I was knee-deep in a similar moment of prolonged doubt. I severed a particularly nasty train of thought by uttering, out loud: “What are you even saying right now? Twenty-six years on this Earth, and you haven’t figured out how to be nice to yourself?”

It was a revelation. A gob-smacking lightbulb moment. In most of us, it’s practically engrained to be kind to others, but no one ever taught us how to be nice to ourselves as well. Instead, we’re hypercritical of everything we do. Nothing is ever quite right. Nothing is ever perfect. And, while, yes, there is always room for improvement, we cannot forget to celebrate our accomplishments and recognize that we are just as awesome as that guy sitting next to us. And you are allow to think it. It’s not going to make you egotistical to recognize your worth.

Think of the encouragement you would extend to your best friend, your sister, your child. Think of what you would say if one of them doubted themselves? Now, go stand in front of a mirror and say that to yourself this time. Sure, it doesn’t fix all of your problems, but you will undoubtedly feel lighter than you did a moment ago.

Thanks for reading! Let’s continue this discussion in the comments below:

Tackling a Career Change

As a recruiter, I talk to people in many different walks of life. One thing I’ve come across more and more recently are people making changing careers, either because their old one is no longer in demand or because they’ve found a passion that they want to explore. The hardest part is often taking the first step. So what does that look like? It’s different for every career, but what isn’t different: learning. Just as you learned for your first career, you will learn for your second. You need to understand what the experts know and what someone going into the career should have. If you are looking to be a Project Manager, look into the certifications for that career (a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, for example); developers, IT and Cybersecurity Professionals often jump into accelerated bootcamps and certification programs. Create mini-projects in your own time so you can talk about them and learn from them. You can never learn too much, especially when changing careers.

Say you’ve done this already. You have your industry certification, your project portfolio in hand, and you are ready to make the change. Well, great! The job market is a difficult stream to navigate even for those not changing careers, but the key is to maintain positivity and to try your best not to get discouraged. Take each rejection as a learning experience and adapt to each audience you speak with as you become more aware of what they are looking for. No one expects you to be perfect, and those that do don’t deserve your time. My recommendation for landing a job in your chosen career is to focus on industries that are relatable to your previous career. You’re a certified Project Manager now, but you came from the restaurant industry; you have a unique skillset to leverage and a wealth of knowledge on how the restaurant business works. Rather than just shooting your resume off to any Project Manager job, narrow your field to PM roles that are restaurant and hospitality focused; you’ll have an advantage over other applicants with the added bonus that your previous career’s knowledge and experience isn’t going to waste.

The idea of a career change can be daunting. We spend years building and building our careers to get where we are in compensation, experience, titles, and there comes a point where we realize, I hate this; I want to do something else. That’s okay. Completely normal, in fact. You see, most of us choose our first career path as a wide-eyed, ignorant high-school or college graduate. We think we know what we’re going to do with our life; we have it mapped in our minds. But think back to the “five-year plan” you put together for yourself at the beginning of your career, does it look anything like your reality? Probably not. Humans change and evolve over time. We are not the same as we were ten years ago. Our interests are often different, and so is the job market. If 2020 taught us nothing else, its that we have to be flexible to be resilient. We have to change and adapt to the times or we are left behind. So while changing your career path after you’ve put years of work into it is terrifying, sometimes it’s exactly what you need to thrive.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have questions or want to continue the conversation in the comments below. I also take recommendations! What do you want to know about the job market?

The Conduit of Insecurity

I saw an advertisement today for a very popular mobile app (which I will leave unnamed) and frankly it forced me to see everything wrong with the media and how it affects us. This app, a simple puzzle game, showed an animated video of a woman working out, and then her romantic partner surprised her in the middle of her workout to introduce her to a friend. In this video, she scrambles to “make herself presentable” in the middle of her workout in the five seconds she has to open the door. The app is a game, so of course, the video shows some attempts at fixing herself up, but the video then ends with the partner throwing flowers at her because she didn’t look appropriately attractive and then stormed off. Shameful.

Adults can typically look at this for what it is: a silly game and an overdramatic rendition of reality, but this ad was not targeted at discerning adults. This was an app targeted at teenagers; people who are already suffering the brutality of self-image, stemming from the pressures of social media, school and other kids their age. Other ads for this app are truly just as bad, they condemn the differences, girls who look less-than-perfect with peers laughing at the appearances and friends gasping at the horror of have blemishes on her face. We are preaching to these young girls that to be anything less than perfect is to be ridiculed, and to be the one ridiculing is okay. It’s no wonder body image issues, depression and anxiety are at an all-time high in our society.

With emphasis put on the exterior, we inflate physical appearance over things like kindness, genuineness, mental strength and all of the qualities we claim to want our children to have. Sadly, with the need for perfection on the exterior, we encourage young minds to conceal their imperfections: emotional issues, familial issues, mental issues; they are all tucked away behind a mask that these kids feel that they have to show to the world. Sadly, that also retards making genuine connections with people, because now they don’t know when it’s okay to let those “imperfections” be seen.

The emphasis on the exterior, the need for perfection and beauty, it is emphasized by the media. Young girls learn to put so much make up on their face that it really rivals that of stage make-up. They look plastic. They look 10 years older and still they are subjected to the unfairness of the rest of the world saying things like “false advertising” if they were to ever show their face without makeup. This double-edged sword is that of media versus men (who, actually are fueling the media in the first place). Young girls hear men say these words, this hate toward everything that society taught them and now have no idea how to navigate these relationships. “False-advertising” turns into fear of showing what their face and body look like without the makeup. It turns into sleeping with makeup on. It turns into women doing their makeup before they go into the gym, because god forbid we let a single person see us with any kind of imperfection.

I am not writing this article to condemn this app or young girls wearing make-up. Honestly, the fault does not lie with any one party at face-value. Media and consumer research is what influences these types of advertisements, and rather than fighting against the grain to raise a positive message, most brands will choose the route that makes them the most money. Fair enough. But it’s important to remember that our minds fuel the media. The things that we as a society buy in to. The links that we click on. The words that we are posting online. Why is the media poison to us? Because our society allows this click bait to grow and get worse, and the people most affected by it are kids.

Thank you for reading! Let’s continue this discussion in the comment section below!

Success In Interviews

The job market can be a terrifying place, particularly if you didn’t choose to be there. With the stress of unemployment building and the anxiety to find a job before the emergency funds run out, it’s no surprise that navigating this often-secretive and sometimes-biased monster of job hunting is so challenging even for people with the best credentials. There is so much conflicting advice from “experts” in the field, from career coaches, hiring managers, and from other recruiters. All of them are bringing a different perspective with different personal preferences and opinions about how to conquer job searching. One thing to remember with all of this unsolicited advice, is that there is no right answer. Every job, every company is different, and because humans are far more complex that what we can fully evaluate on paper, interviews become a staple in the job hunt.

Even after you do all the work on the front end: writing and reviewing your resume, researching, and applying for jobs, there is still a minefield to work your way through: the interview process. Interviewing and hiring looks different for every company. Most often, the first step to get an interview is to get through HR or a recruiter. This is arguably the hardest step. Recruiters weed out a minimum of 50% of applicants for every job before they even call. If you are consistently applying to jobs but never get a call, then at this stage, there is something missing from your application. Some common issues I see when reviewing applications that I reject is simply that there is nothing stated in your resume that makes this job relevant to you. This happens so often with one-touch applies that recruiters will often take a glance and then immediately send it to the rejection pile. If you are intentionally applying for a job that is outside of your background, you need to at least have a sentence or two in your Objective section stating that you are making a career change. Do not let the recruiter assume anything, because often, it is not in your favor.

Interviews vary in type, but the ones that I see the most are Human Resources (HR) screens, technical interviews, and culture interviews. Each interview is examining you, the applicant, a little differently. Think of HR as the bodyguards to the hiring manager. When we are screening candidates, we are only sending the most qualified applicants on. Hiring managers are busy. While a recruiter’s core function is to talk to you, this is just another extra task the hiring manager has to carve out time for. With that said, the best way to pass an HR screen is to absolutely show why you are the best fit for the job. Be forthcoming about your background, your career goals, ask questions and be honest when you are asked questions in return. If you wow your recruiter, they will fight for you in the interview process. If you impress us, we are now your champions. Show us why we need you.

Interviews with hiring managers are most often about the technical aspects of the role itself. HR might have asked you about your background when you first spoke to them, but while a recruiter is often particularly good at weeding out non-qualified candidates, we are not an expert in your field. The hiring manager knows all of these nuances and will dig into specifics of your experience. If you are a project manager, they are evaluating your skills as a PM. If you are an engineer, don’t be alarmed when they start asking you specific technical questions about your background. Making it past the technical interviews sends you right into another beast to master: Culture Interviews. Culture Interviews are tricky for even the best public speaker. With a team collaboration culture growing in popularity, it is rare that you will find jobs that have no interaction with others. Your audience is there to gauge if they can work with you day-to-day, and vice versa. It is completely normal to be nervous. These style interviews are hard, and we know it. Just remain positive and remember that you are really interviewing these people as well.

While it’s true that we are looking at different areas in each interview, one thing that is the same across every interview is the need to prepare. Most recruiters won’t hold it against you if you do not know much about the company for the screen, as often we are contacting you with little warning. However, the hiring manager expects that you know what you are interviewing for; take at least thirty minutes to read up on the company, go over the job description, and research common interview questions. Before scheduling an interview, ask your recruiter if there is anything you can prepare for; they know the process best and can give you forewarning about potential hard questions. That said, when you are asked a question you didn’t come with a ready-made answer for, take your time to formulate your response. There is nothing wrong with saying “That’s a great question, I’ll have to think about it” before you give your answer.

Most people think that the most important thing about interviewing is having the skillset to do the job. And while it is true that having the right credentials will give you a leg-up in the interview process, that is absolutely not all that a hiring team looks for in interviews. By the time you get in front of more people than the hiring manager and recruiter, we’ve already decided you can do the job. Now, we’re looking at intangibles; primarily, your attitude. To put it simply, negativity will not get you far in an interview process. Interviews can be stressful and cumbersome, and while almost everyone involved in the interview knows this and is sympathetic to it, presenting yourself negatively will do you no favors. Just remember, you may only get one chance to make an impression on the people you are speaking with.

Keeping yourself honest and constantly evaluating your own processes, whether it be questions you ask, or how you explain yourself, is critical in landing the role you want. Sometimes companies provide feedback when they “go in another direction,” and sometimes they don’t. This is why self-evaluation is critical for success. There is no shame in asking family members or friends to mock interview you or review your resume. As awkward as it feels, practicing in front of a mirror allows you to be cognizant of your facial expressions when you interview.  Write your questions down, and even better, write the answers you get to your questions down too, so that when you make your decision on which offer to choose, you can reflect on what your observed from your interviews.

Interviewing truly goes both ways. I understand that when you are in a difficult position, it feels like you have to take whatever you can get first, but I encourage you to really think about what kind of company you want to work for. Write it down. Let it marinate in your mind. Then ask those questions of the people who are interviewing you. If a company’s culture is important to you, ask how each interviewer would describe it. Ask what their favorite thing about working there is. If it’s the benefits that will be the deciding factor, ask about them. The worst that can happen is they give you bad answers and then you know that you don’t want to work for them. You can spend your time looking for a better opportunity rather than jumping through the interviewing hoops. Overall, conquering the interview process takes practice that we don’t often get, but understanding what each of your interviewers are looking for, preparing for their questions, and evaluating your own success is perhaps the best advice I can give on how to navigate a largely unknown territory. It only has to be daunting if you allow it to be.

I hope this article gave you some perspective on interviewing; let me know what questions I can answer for you in the comments. I am happy to provide any insight that I can give to help you land your next job!

About Me

Well, I’d say I’m not very interesting, but that certainly won’t make you want to stick around, so I’ll give you a little background on yours truly. My name is Ashton, I dislike long walks on the beach, but could go for a great hike with the pup (he would enjoy it for three seconds before he decides to flop on the ground).

Professionally, I am a Corporate Recruiter and HR Generalist with a tech company. I do love my work, but the immersion in numbers and technology is worlds away from my field of study in Art History, Literature and Writing. Even still, my job does give me some unique insight and motivation for my true love: writing and creation.

I have been writing in some capacity since I was an angsty preteen, demanding for everyone one I knew to read my first god-awful attempts at short fiction. To everyone who has even read them, thank you for not crushing my soul. I totally would have deserved it for those… masterpieces. Primarily, I gravitate toward fiction writing, but as you will see from the things that I post, that is not my only interest. Anything I can write about is something that I will try my hand at; even if the final result hadn’t been the goal, I will have at least learned something new in the process!

I hope you enjoy my site, and if you have any requests for articles, reviews or any other content, please reach out! I would love to hear from you.