Women’s Equality: Is ‘Awareness’ Enough?

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Several years ago, I moved in with a guy. We both were established in our careers outside of the home, and one day when he was at work I took the liberty of doing several loads of laundry for him. I thought it was the nice thing to do, a nice gesture. I will admit there was a twisted sense of pride emitting from my veins when I was folding his laundry—it made me feel closer to him. Then, the next week rolled around and his dirty laundry piled up. On Monday morning, I was on the receiving end of a mind-blowing tongue lashing before going into work because I hadn’t done his laundry for him. Then it hit me—I had set a boundary and created a role for myself. I had waltzed into his domain and rendered his hands and brains useless on how to push buttons and pour detergent.

Women’s equality is a tricky subject. Men have always known their places. They are the Alphas, the dominators, the providers. Women? We can be and want to be anything and everything. That’s the beauty of being a woman; a woman can be anything from a homemaker to a CEO and in many cases are both at the same time. Of course that wasn’t always the case, and the ones (like myself) who are in a place of authority in a male-dominated industry have a unique responsibility to help society play catch-up.

I think back to Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards two weeks ago. She took her time not just to thank those who helped her along the way, but she used her precious minutes as a platform for women’s wage equality awareness. While I hate the word awareness, and find it tough to relate to a woman who makes millions, I hope that her words do bring change. They prompted me to write this blog, so that must mean something. “Awareness” to me means that you simply know about something. There is no action verb in the term “awareness.” We have International Women’s Day and Equal Pay Day all designed to raise “awareness.” However, if we want to truly be equal, why are we choosing symbolic days designed for women to stand out? Why are we demanding that doors be opened for us just because we are women? Why do some of us still, to this day, think a man should pay on the first date, or buy us drinks, or ask a family’s permission to marry us? Some people think there’s a respect factor in these social acceptances. If we want equality in our pay, we have to look at other ways inequality thrives in our society and change the boundaries that are set in our day-to-day lives.

In one of my first meetings in, for lack of a better word, a power position in my field, I was called sweetheart. It bothered me at the time, but I did as so many do and let it go. Then in subsequent meetings, I was told how pretty my hair was. As time went on, I realized that this person did not respect me as an equal, much less a boss. I was simply a girl to him. If the roles were reversed and I would call my male boss sweetheart, that would be grounds for dismissal in most companies. Over the course of many months I have worked to reset the boundaries of our working relationship, which if not done in the very beginning, is a tough feat. Now, every time he says that my hair looks pretty, I say with a smile: “Well thank you, so does yours.”

I understand that I am a small fish in a very big corporate pond. Women have a tough battle ahead in all parts of the world, and our country doesn’t have it nearly as bad as others do in the way women are treated. Respect is not a privilege or a right when it comes to women. It’s something to gain, to earn. I am lucky that I live in a country where I have the freedom to fight for equality. Hopefully others like me will set equal boundaries for generations to come.

Job Application Pitfalls in the Digital Age

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By Alyssa Stahr

I send thousands of text messages and emails a month. In fact, so much correspondence is done via digital means that when my phone rings it practically startles me. Who in the world could be calling me? And, do I screen my calls? Absolutely. Thinking back to the time of corded phones and no caller ID makes me cringe. I may have just aged myself, but I think I’m in the crucial medium of the corporate world: I’m old enough to respect long-lasting technology and proper etiquette, yet young enough to adapt to change.

With that being said, texting and social media have vastly changed the way we communicate. We shorten phrases to their bare minimums or numerals; use emojis to share our virtual body language and to evoke sarcasm; and we have lost the essence of formality in the process. This is particularly evident in what should still be a formal process—the job application.

Part of my duties at VAPE Magazine is to screen and hire potential candidates. In a nutshell, I serve as our HR department. The applications that come out of the woodwork baffle me. Out of 100 that I receive, there are possibly two that I will give a second glance. There are myriad job sites at the touch of a keyboard with endless tips on how to send a proper cover letter and resume. Is it the digital age that has failed us, or is it our educational system? That is a case study in the making, I’m sure. But for now, here are some of the most common job application blunders I see, that no matter how young (or old) you are, should still be the norm.

I is not a sir. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve received a cover letter that begins with “Dear Sir.” I am not sure what has led the applicant to think I am a man, and the utter lack of simple research to find out who the hiring manager is surely will send your application to my trash bin. This became a running joke at my old job because the applicant not only committed this blunder, but he also couldn’t figure out the difference between the is/are verb in his letter. Therefore, “I is not a sir” was born.

“Hey There” is not the way to the hiring manager’s heart. I am not your friend. I am the person who is potentially going to give you a job. Using a phrase this informal right out of the gate isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it won’t put you at the top of the stack.

Here’s a link to my stuff. Let’s chat. People actually use the word “stuff” in a job application. And “let’s chat” goes back to being too informal for the situation at hand. Your “stuff” better be pretty great to get an interview.

The random resume with no body copy. One of my favorites is when I receive a resume attached, but no cover letter. We have a multitude of job openings, so what position is it that you are applying to? Sometimes if the person has an advanced degree or something on the resume that catches my eye, I will respond and ask that very question. Nine times out of 10 the answer is “Whatever you have available; I’m very talented in many areas.” Really? You can design a web page AND edit copy? Fantastic! Clearly you don’t care about the company in particular, however, and are just looking for “any old job.” Well, we aren’t the company for you and most others won’t be either.

Grammatical and spelling errors spell longer unemployment. If you spell something wrong or have glaring grammatical errors, especially after you’ve told me that you have stellar attention to detail and are applying for a writing position, you’re out. Period.

Not following directions. This is possibly one of the worst offenses on the list. We, like most companies out there (especially start-ups) work around the clock. We work through weekends and on holidays and we eat and breathe our product. I particularly am this way because I love what I do and I’m a sadistic workaholic. I don’t have time to deal with people who don’t follow directions. Our staff has to be able to communicate clearly or the wheel will fall off the car. It’s about building trust. And, if I’ve asked on a social media post to email your cover letter and resume with “writer” in the subject line, it’s more to see if you can follow simple instructions than a way to filter applications in my inbox.

Alyssa Stahr is the founder of Alyssa Stahr Communications & Consulting. She is an award-winning journalist who is a member of the Freelancers Union and COO/Editor in Chief of VAPE Magazine. For inquiries, contact her at alyssastahr@gmail.com.

VAPE News Magazine Issue 8 Is Up!

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http://vapenewsmagazine.com/

Alyssa’s Expat Life—Bali. The End and the Beginning.

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Well here we are, at the end of the trip that I’ve been waiting for pretty much since I set foot in China and at the end of Alyssa’s Expat Life. And, minus the exorbitant amount of mosquito bites on my legs, the Bali portion did not disappoint.

Customs at Denpasar airport was one of the more extensive experiences I had at a country gateway, and considering I was coming in on a plane with all Chinese people, I felt somewhat in my element—until we reached the final customs line. After being in line for quite a while the typical butting and pushing and shoving began, which I will never figure out for the life of me the point of. There is a line for a reason, and trying to skip ahead or push me further into the person in front of me isn’t going to do you or me any favors. After about an hour we finally got through, and the customs agent saw a woman clearly butt right in front of me. Luckily he wasn’t Chinese, he was Indonesian and waved me to come right on ahead. I got a quiet satisfaction and a little redemption for all the times that someone threw their groceries down on top of mine at UniMart.

Normally I wouldn’t feel anxiety at a customs line because I didn’t have a connection to make. However, since I haven’t had the best of luck with people picking me up when they say they are going to and since it took an hour and a half to get through the line, I was worried that my driver didn’t wait for me. I wouldn’t blame him since we were pushing 2 a.m. I finally picked up ALL my China luggage, put it on the cart, and made my way to the final check in. Lo and behold, another Chinese woman and her daughter butted right in front of me. I had enough at this point and gave her a gentle tap with my cart and a not so gentle scolding with my mouth. The customs agent grinned, took my passport and again waved me through. I left them in my dust. You’re not in China anymore, Toto. No longer is it OK to treat people like crap just because you feel entitled. I will never feel that butting in front of someone is cultural. It’s rude and exhibits a serious lack of manners. Learn some respect.

My amazing driver was waiting for me, I changed my money and I was off to Taman Ayu in beautiful Seminyak. The next four days were spent soaking up the rays and the mosquitos in my awesome villa or poolside. I needed the break and the rest more than I thought and welcomed the new sunshine overhead instead of clouds of pollution.

Next I was off to the Inner Temple Retreat for six days of a structured, planned-out well-confirmed experience. Since China is anything but that, I was giddy when Emma, our leader, called to say they would be a little late, and then the car wasn’t even really that late. Communication is a beautiful thing to me personally and something that I really missed these last several months.

I met up with Rebecca and Jess, the other two women that would be on the retreat with us. We were driven over winding roads and between rice fields until we reached our safe haven, our true oasis—Samadi Bali. Samadi Bali’s doors ended up being a gateway to the soul, an escape from everything imaginable except the four of us and our minds and hearts. Even though other people come to Samadi for the vegetarian menu, yoga classes and camaraderie, we were allowed to delve deeper into the grounds, back into our beautiful house and private pool area. The owners live on site, but beyond that it’s easy to get lost in lack of humans and the abundance of wonderful animals. Each day we were greeted by three dogs, two geese, a cat, a guinea pig, a rabbit and roosters crowing. I also had an unwanted snake as a guest wrapped around a boys’ neck on day 1, which hampered my first yoga session due to anxiety of the moment. It wasn’t the smartest thing for the kids to bring a snake to a place where women were having a retreat, seeing as it’s tops on many women’s lists as the No. 1 fear in life. But, our fearless leader Emma spoke with someone and the issue was solved, as every other thing was the rest of the week. We wanted for nothing and yearned for nothing. The entire focus was self healing, allowed mostly due in part to Emma’s amazing guidance and nurturing personality.

Even as I sit here by the pool watching the groundskeeper water the grounds and the lovely women clean the rooms and do our laundry, I am amazed at the week I just had. Everyone should get a chance to work on him or her self without distractions of the outside world. It’s only been six days, and the yoga, meditation, new food, dinners by the coast, massages, pampering and reflection are things that I will absolutely take with me for the rest of my days. I’ll remember yoga with Cyril (Cereal) the most and the candle meditation. He had just the right amount of care and firmness that I needed in an instructor. I’ll remember that I don’t need alcohol to survive or to alleviate my anxiety or to feel like I’m a more interesting person. I’ll remember the day spa and getting a mani, pedi and scalp massage all at the same time, not knowing which one to focus on and the incredible thanks I felt to be able to have hot pink nails again without melting down because it was Dave’s color. I’ll remember our chocolate workshop at Suki’s house, which was straight out of something you’d see on a movie set. Suki, a native Londoner, fit right into this world with her charisma and charm. She was just one of those people that you are drawn to—a friendly nature mixed with a mystery that was just evident enough that you are dying to sit down to hear more of her story. I’ll remember Damien being nice to me even though I skipped most of his morning Ashtanga Yoga sessions. I personally prefer the yoga that is more instructed and not repetitive and the fact that I even know the difference now shows how much I’ve grown in just a week. I’ll remember the Mandalas and chakra meditation and how creative we all are, and how the mind reflects different things so vividly than even someone who can’t paint can still put thoughts out in color. I’ll remember Jasque’s voice during our “letting go” therapy every time I feel anxiety and anger from the past. I will carry his healing vibes and that calming moment with me forever. Anxiety passes just like every life moment. And we all have our own paths. Mostly, I’ll remember Rebecca, Jess and Emma.

Emma wasn’t just a coordinator. This isn’t just a job for her. She’s a lifelong friend now and a nurturing soul. She attended to our every want and need both logistically and emotionally. I think this is the first time in my life that I am at a loss for words on the impact a person has made on my life. The words may be lacking, but my heart is overfilled and beyond thankful for her kindness and life-changing impact.

I couldn’t have picked a better two people to be on this retreat with in Rebecca and Jess. Rebecca has obtained a severe food allergy, which allowed me to really look at my own food choices and realize that I’m lucky that I can eat absolutely anything that I want and that I should be making better choices in my daily eating habits. I really hope that this allergy goes away or lessens so that she can enjoy all the foods she loves again.

Jess is one of the most positive, fun people I’ve ever been around, and I know that we also will be lifelong friends. We’re already talking about the next retreat that we want to meet up on, and it will be good to have someone to travel with that has such a great outlook on everything and who is so open. In closing mediation today, the four of us sat around and gave thanks and talked about how we all are so different, yet were able to come together in a non-judgmental space with all of our quirks, lessons and open hearts. I’ll remember that moment with those three amazing women for as long as I live.

As I close Alyssa’s Expat Life, I feel so blessed to have taken part in this almost year-long journey starting with a simple TEFL class last July. All roads have led to this point, but it’s by no means an end. It’s a beginning. I’m heading back to a life built on what I’ve learned in the last couple of months, renewed friendships and discarded baggage. What a wonderful gift it’s been.

Maddux, the wait is over. I’m coming home.

Alyssa’s Expat Life—Ode to Shenzhen/Hong Kong

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“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
― Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt

Being a member of the media has its perks: free show tickets, invitations to fancy dinners with important people, free trips to conventions, video shoots in various parts of the country and social events. But, nothing could have prepared me for the awe-inspiring visit and flight into Hong Kong for VAPE News magazine. My editorial destiny with VAPE started back in 2002 when I met Matt at Drag Racing Online. Back then he was “just” a designer and I was “just” a clerical worker/copy editor. Over the years we’ve done little projects here and there, and when Matt started VAPE I was eager to help. The magazine has taken on a life of its own, which has led me to a factory tour (of e-cigarettes of all things) in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

The flight in was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was like I was getting dropped straight into a James Bond movie with the lush tropical mountains and a city scape you have to see to believe. My photos just don’t do it justice. I can’t even put into words the week I’ve had with the Wingle Group boys. Dman, Shlomo, Igor, Ivan and Borya have really made this 14-hour work days and crazy week of e-cig factory tours and VIP lunches/dinners well worth it. Shlomo (means King Solomon in Hebrew), our driver, and I immediately had the most unexpected of connections. While the boys in the back spoke Hebrew/Russian or whatever their combined languages were, Shlomo and I were in the front of the car teaching each other our own form of Chinglish, laughing and complaining about stupid drivers while he read all the signs to me and laughed as I pronounced them.

The funniest point of the visit was crossing across the border in a van with someone from Lebanon, Russia, Israel, Germany, the UK, China and little old me. We definitely got searched. We were laughing about the array of passports and our unlikely caravan and how we must look to customs.

My last night in Hong Kong with Dman was a dream. He took me on a ferry ride and walking tour of some of his favorite hot spots. We went to a Japanese bar, the Butler, where the bartender took my simple Captain and Coke and lit honey and lemons on fire, mixing it ever so precisely with a flourish. Topping the drink off with a stick of cinnamon, I never knew a basic drink could be delivered with such pride and accuracy. The only sad part about my night in Hong Kong is that it wasn’t long enough. I believe, however, that it won’t be my last time here. That’s my hope, anyway.

There’s really something special about working hard and traveling at the same time. You learn so much not only about the world, but yourself. I feel relevant. I feel important. I feel alive more than I ever have in my lifetime. Coming back home and settling down just doesn’t feel right in my bones anymore. Perhaps that’s why life before all of these blessings never quite meshed with the person I was trying to be. I was trying to be married and have the two-car garage that everyone else had, to be what everyone deems “normal” in mid-America. But, that’s just not me. And now that I’ve accepted it and steered my life in the direction that I have, wow. I never thought I could be so happy. Dmitri even said that he can’t settle and live in one place for more than a year, and for the first time I really understood what that life meant and how it completely agreed with what I’ve always wanted.

Idle time never has done me justice, and that’s why flying, trade shows, conferences, you have it, have been so appealing to me. Listening to other languages, laughing with new friends from around the world, learning about different cultures—it’s all a wonderful gift. I have one more night to wrap up some unfinished business in Jinan. I gladly say goodbye to the city I’ve called my home for five months, and I head to Bali now with one of the best weeks of my life behind me and with what I’ve learned deeply imbedded in my heart.