June 27, 2016

Random Acts… Brexit and the “Free State of Jones”

Posted in Business, Diversity, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Politics at 8:06 pm by dinaheng

Life can sometimes seem like a never-ending cycle of unresolved conflicts.

Great Britain surprised the world last week by voting to leave the European Union. The campaigns of the presumptive GOP and Democratic nominees in the U.S. Presidential election mirror the conflicting sides of the Brexit debate. A new movie about the Civil War – STX Entertainment’s “Free State of Jones” — reflects the intractable partisan politics of today’s Democrats and Republicans.

It all comes back to the power of fear versus the power of love.Dinah Eng

Fear of losing cheap labor (in the form of slaves) tore this country apart in the early 1860s. Fear of losing jobs to immigrants is a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and Brexit’s “leave” campaign today.

What we need is more Newton Knights in the world. Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey) in “Free State of Jones,” was a little-known figure in Civil War history whose contribution to this country proves that every action we take ripples through time.

Knight, a Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in breaking away from the Confederacy to form the region’s first mixed-race community. Refusing to fight a “rich man’s war,” Knight became a Confederate deserter, hiding in the swamps of rural Mississippi and inspiring a ragtag army to fight injustice and prejudice.

After the Civil War ended, Knight advocated for the right of freed slaves to vote in Jones County, Miss. and fought the Klu Klux Klan. He fathered five children in a common-law marriage to Rachel, a former slave, and while they could not legally marry, he deeded his 160-acre farm to her, making her one of the few African-American women to own land in the South.

Knight also fathered children by his first wife, Serena, who left him during the Civil War. After the war, Serena returned to the Knight farm, where both wives and their families lived.

Eighty five years later, Knight’s great-grandson Davis Knight, who looks Caucasian, was indicted for violating Mississippi law by marrying Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman. While Davis Knight was convicted of miscegenation in 1948, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the verdict.

Prejudice and economic inequality seem to go hand in hand in humanity’s history. No one knows what will happen when Britain formally leaves the EU. Since last week’s referendum, Scotland is considering the possibility of leaving Great Britain to stay in the EU.

Republicans who can’t stand Trump’s rhetoric will no doubt look for ways to oust him at the GOP convention, or break away to form a new party of their own.

Politically, we can always move from one party to another, or leave a block of countries to stand independently. What people seem to forget is that no matter where we go, if fear is the driving force, we will just end up under another label, afraid of something else.

Brexit’s “leave” faction won the referendum because the positive reasons for remaining in the EU got lost amid the shouts of fear against other cultures, a view held mostly by an older generation that feels left out and left behind in a global society. The same dynamic has driven Trump’s rise in the United States.

Today’s Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to defeat the prejudice that divides us. We must realize, though, that the only way to end any partisan divide is to face our fears, build bridges, and let the power of love heal our wounds.









January 11, 2012

Cirque CEO leads with an artist’s heart

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Diversity, Employment, Entertainment at 7:21 pm by dinaheng

Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, is a businessman who understands that in any enterprise, dollars and people sense must work together if creativity is to thrive, and profits are to grow.

Lamarre, a former Canadian television executive, was a marketing/public relations consultant in 1986 when Guy Laliberté, founder of the street artist troupe that would become a worldwide sensation, asked for his help.

“He had no money to pay me,” says Lamarre, who nevertheless shared his expertise with Laliberté. “Twelve years later, when Cirque was successful, I became the head of a TV network in Canada. I told Guy that I would like to have the TV rights to Cirque, and we started to see each other more because of the project.

“He called me from London one day and said, ‘You’re going to join the circus. Are you willing to talk to me about it?’ Three weeks later, I joined Cirque.”

Eleven years later, Lamarre is in charge of the business side of Cirque du Soleil, guiding the decisions that turn Laliberté’s vision into profitable ventures. How do you manage a company of thousands whose products are based on ever-changing ideas?

“It doesn’t matter how good a business guy you are, if you don’t love artists and content,” says Lamarre, sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel restaurant. “Guy is a great dreamer, and so am I. I cannot be just a business guy. I have to be sensitive to the production and content.

“We provide artists stability. We have people who have been with us for 27 years. When I sit and watch a show, I feel good that I’ve helped provide this man or that woman with a job.”

One of Lamarre’s practices is to stay in touch with Cirque’s employees and their needs. He travels around the world to see each show every year, talking with the artists and crew to boost morale and to gather information first-hand in the field.

“I sit in the kitchen to talk with them about where we are as an organization,” Lamarre says. “It’s easy to sit in an office in Montreal and say we should cut this and that, but to go on site and see what their life is like is important. It’s important to understand the reality of your employees. I believe in the importance of dialogue.”

Managers who listen are appreciated, but those who hear and act on what has been said are the ones who inspire employees to follow their lead. Lamarre shares a story of a Chinese artist who wanted to talk to him because she had a special request. After working for the company for 10 years, she wanted a corporate jacket.

Lamarre delivered, and the following year, she greeted him with her own gift — a scarf, given with a hug and tears.

In a global economy, companies that understand a diversity of cultures and thought emerge with products that appeal to the widest audiences. At Cirque du Soleil, the 1,500 artists on stage, and thousands more behind the scenes, come from around the world, with English being the most common language. Still, many translators are required.

“Our company is a United Nations,” Lamarre says. “We have an average of 17 nationalities in each show. People feel we’re a citizen of the world, and we try to implement ways of living that illustrate that.”

For example, Cirque’s successful touring show “Dralion” has a large contingent of Chinese artists. To ensure a pipeline of top-notch Chinese artists for that and other  shows, Cirque du Soleil works with the Chinese government to create relationships with Chinese circus troupes and schools. To ensure fairness in the eyes of employees, the company goes one step further.

“We negotiate with the government to make sure the artists get paid what everyone gets, even if we have to pay a surcharge to the troupe or government for the partnership,” Lamarre says. “We have to be respectful of all the cultures.”

To ensure that new ideas are always streaming into the company’s imagination, a team of three researchers are charged with touring the world and surfing the Web to identify what’s happening in fashion, architecture, music, and the entertainment industry.

Every three months, the team presents what they’ve found to the company’s top artistic creators, fueling ideas for new shows.

“How can you understand what the new values and trends are, unless you look broadly?” Lamarre asks.

Planning for the future can be seen most clearly in the way Cirque du Soleil approaches the careers of its artists. Since their performers travel the world, the company operates traveling schools for the artists’ children.

“It costs us a bloody fortune, but it’s worth it,” Lamarre says. “None of the kids will leave the tour without a high school degree if they’re under 18. For the Chinese and Romanian artists, they’d like their kids to be trained to be circus performers.

“We’re willing to do that, but their kids have to study in school first. If they decide to train their children as circus performers in their free time, that’s fine. But if you want to tour with us, your kids have to study.”

Lamarre says Cirque du Soleil recognizes that performers cannot be on stage forever, so artists are urged to develop skills in the company’s Crossroads program that will result in other jobs when their day in the spotlight is done.

“This way, they can continue to work for us,” Lamarre says. “We need trainers, public relations people, and others around the world, so you’re not going home without knowing what you’ll do next. We value people’s experience. If I have a vice president who’s been training for 10 to 15 years, he understands the performer’s reality. It all comes back to benefit the organization.”

Clearly, doing right by its employees has fueled continued success for the company. With that kind of management philosophy, who wouldn’t want to join the circus?

December 29, 2011

Resolve to make meaningful connections

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Entertainment, Health, Relationships at 6:04 pm by dinaheng

The future may be filled with technology-driven toys, but nothing will connect us more than personal interactions.

As the holiday season wanes, the kids are out of school and I’m working at Grandma’s house with a little babysitting thrown in. Today, I’m writing this on a laptop while my 7-year-old nephew Mark is watching a movie on an iPad, and his 10-year-old sister Emily is playing Angry Birds on her iPhone.

Yesterday, Emily and I spent much of the afternoon playing Monopoly on an old-fashioned board while Mark tossed a ball with me in between my dice throws. Whatever form the entertainment takes, we’re all hanging together in the same room, which is the real key to connectivity.

In an uncertain economy, adults are working harder than ever — to make ends meet and to stave off the fear of losing the jobs we have. People neglect their health and well being, going to work when they’re sick in order to “get things done,” no doubt infecting  co-workers in the process.

Co-workers and bosses e-mail colleagues when they’re on vacation, giving no real break from the work world. We may love our jobs, but what is the point of taking time off, if we can’t get away from the office?

Having little time to take care of things at home adds to the stress of everyday living, and cuts down even more on the meaningful connections in our lives. When there’s no time to return calls to friends, or lend a helping hand without feeling stressed, the heart is squeezed even more.

At the same time, kids are asking for more and more expensive toys, in the form of electronic devices that run the gamut from tablets to smartphones to video games. They love texting more than talking on the phone, and have to be told to put their phones away at the dinner table.

If using electronic devices becomes more interesting than spending time with human beings, we really need to look at the way we’re connecting — or not connecting — with others. There will always be new tech toys to buy. But you can’t buy lost time with the people you love.

As we ring in the new year, resolve to make more time for yourself. Eat healthier foods,  exercise more (even if only a little), get offline, and spend more face time with people. Your heart will feel the difference.

June 23, 2011

Mailman missing in action

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Politics at 4:08 am by dinaheng

I love the U.S. Postal Service.

Six days a week, rain or shine, mail carriers deliver the letters, magazines, bills, checks, advertising, and packages that, in a small way, define where we live. It’s like having your own personal Santa Claus who brings you a surprise every day — paychecks for being nice… and, well, we won’t talk about what you get for being naughty.

Since I live in a condominium, and the mailbox holds a limited amount of mail, I always file a vacation hold request with the post office when I travel. Recently, I was out of town for a couple of weeks, and asked that delivery resume on the day I returned.

I was surprised that there was no mail in the box or on my doorstep when I got back, so went into the post office to see what had happened. A clerk checked and told me there was no record of my vacation hold request and no mail was being held for me, so the carrier must have it. If nothing came today, the mail would resume tomorrow.

I went home, removed the vacation hold post-it that the carrier had placed inside my box, and left a note taped to the outside of the box that I was back. Next day, there was about a week’s worth of mail in the box. I called the branch to ask where was the rest of my mail. The person who answered looked around, found six pieces of mail on the vacation hold shelf, and said it would be delivered the next day. Unfortunately, everything else I was expecting was nowhere to be found.

She promised to give notes to the carrier and the supervisor, explaining that I was missing all my usual utility bills, bank statement, two credit card statements, and two paychecks.

My regular carrier, Cease, is always great about delivering my vacation hold mail intact, which is why I always give him a small token of appreciation at the holidays. Since he plays Santa year-round for me, the least I can do is say thanks at Christmastime. Besides, I have an uncle and a friend who are retired USPS folks, so I have great affection for the carriers who keep the nation’s mail running.

When nothing came in the mail the next day, I went back to the post office and spoke with one of the front desk clerks. They all know me there — by sight, if not by name — because I prefer buying stamps from human beings than vending machines. The clerk looked in the back, and found nothing. He told me that the route had changed, and Cease was no longer my carrier. The best thing to do, he said, was to talk to the new carrier about my missing mail.

So I started listening for the sound of the mailboxes opening each day. One day, I heard the metal rattle, and raced down to catch the new mailman. He told me he wasn’t the new carrier, just a substitute from another station who was helping out on the expanded route.

Over the next week, I became obsessed with meeting my new carrier. Driving home one day, I spotted a mail truck parked a few blocks west of our building. I got out, walked down the street and talked to the carrier a few doors down.

He said no, he wasn’t the new guy, either. He explained that due to budget cuts, the route I was on had expanded. “They cobbled together territories, and now the route’s too big,” he said. “There have been a ton of complaints about mail being late. I’m surprised your bills haven’t come by now. Usually, if it’s delivered to the wrong address, someone will send it back to the post office for re-delivery.”

At that point, I called all the folks I owe money to every month and asked them to resend the bills. The woman at American Express said, “Yup. Been there. Same thing happened to me last month.” The woman at Bank of America said, “You’d be surprised how often bank statements are lost in the mail. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I asked those who owed me money to stop payment on the previous checks, and reissue new payments. After talking to neighbors, who also complained about delivery issues since our route change, I decided to ask Santa’s elves for the scoop.

“First class mail’s been the backbone of what pays for our service,” said Greg Frey, public relations representative for USPS, national headquarters. “We’ve had several years of problems from a severe recession, and consumer behavior has changed with the increased use of online bill paying and e-mail. We’ve had to reduce our operations in every way.”

Frey said that by law, USPS must visit every house or business six days a week. While the workforce has decreased, each carrier must stop at more addresses, even if there’s less mail to deliver, which I’m sure does not make Santa happy.

“We’re between $12 billion to $15 billion in the hole currently, and have cut more than 100,000 employees in the last three years,” Frey said. “We’re trying to continue our services and maintain standards. We may be a government organization, but we receive no taxpayer money. While McDonald’s can close a store if there are no customers, we can’t. We’re not asking for a bailout, just help from Congress to fix the financial issues.”

So if you’re missing any of your mail, call the Postal Service (800-275-8777) or e-mail them online at usps.com/customerservice.

A bit of trivia — the longest route in the nation is in Gridley, Kansas, with 182 miles and 258 deliveries. The shortest is in Henderson, Nevada, at 2.9 miles with 952 deliveries. In my Los Angeles neighborhood, there are 16,089 deliveries and 26 carrier routes, averaging about 618 deliveries per route. It’s a wonder more mail doesn’t get lost.

“Our delivery employees are professionals and adjust quickly to the new routes and environments, but there are sometimes delays associated with adjusting routes,” said Richard Maher, Los Angeles spokesperson for USPS. “If you receive someone else’s mail or do not get your mail, it’s important to let us know so that we can address the issue with your letter carrier.”

I still haven’t met my new carrier. I spotted a mail truck across the street yesterday, and walked down the street in search of its driver. When I caught up with him, he said no, he wasn’t the new carrier. “I’m helping out from another station until they figure out what to do with this route,” he said. “If it keeps going like this, you may not get a regular carrier again.”

Please don’t say that. Lobby Congress to cut mail delivery to five days a week. Add a penny to the Forever stamp. Just don’t take away my Santa Claus.

April 21, 2011

Becoming a star entails hard work

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Television at 7:37 pm by dinaheng

The walls of the Children’s Division at The Campbell Agency are lined with photos of smiling, talented youngsters who are vying for modeling and acting jobs in the Dallas metropolitan area and beyond.

In the world of entertainment, where representation is often key to getting a child an audition for television and film, modeling, or voiceover work, it all starts with impressing the right agent.

While looks and talent are primary considerations, a child’s personality and the parent’s attitude are equally important factors in the eyes of agents who are bombarded by applicants who want to be Hollywood’s next bright star.

“I think part of it is the glamour, or perceived glamour,” says Barbara Blanchette, who handles the broadcast side of The Campbell Agency’s Children Division. “People don’t realize how much work is involved in this business. They think, ‘My kid’s cute and can do this.’ But it’s a lot more than that.”

To be cast in a TV show or film, for example, children must have the willingness to make fun of themselves, do silly things, and be outgoing without their parents being in the room. They must be able to bring whatever qualities they have to the part, interact with adults, and be able to handle the rejection if they’re not chosen.

“When kids come in, I like them to do extra work on shows when it’s available so that they can see what happens on set,” Blanchette says. “It’s a long day, and doesn’t pay much. People don’t realize how long you sit around and do nothing. It helps them make the decision on whether this is something they really want to pursue.”

A huge factor in whether a child is signed by the agency is the parents’ personality and attitude.

“If the parents are hard to deal with, I don’t care how cute or outgoing the child is,” Blanchette says. “We have too much to do to deal with parents who are going to be cranky or send in an e-mail every day about their child. Their child is not the only child we represent. It’s even worse if the parents annoy the client.”

The Campbell Agency receives 250 child submissions a week for openings that occur only when a child drops out of one of the various age and ethnicity groupings, which ensure that each child does not end up competing against numerous others with similar backgrounds inside the agency.

“We go through everything that comes in,” says Diana Dyer, director of children’s print for The Campbell Agency. “With print, look is more of a consideration. We like to have a wide variety of ethnicities because that’s what advertisers want now. We want children whose personalities come across when you meet them.”

Outside of Los Angeles and New York, Dyer says Dallas is a huge print market, with many department stores and commercial work for products being shot in the city. Chicago, Atlanta and Miami are also centers for print and film work.

The Campbell Agency can electronically submit its clients for jobs in other markets, but concentrates most of its efforts on local opportunities.

What do clients want? When it comes to choosing models in fashion photography, Dyer says, size — based on height — is the biggest factor. For commercials, age is key.

“Generally, advertisers want kids who are older than the age group they’re trying to target for their product,” Dyer says. “For example, Hasbro might want eight to 14 year olds in their ads. We get submissions from everywhere, but because of the turnaround time, it usually doesn’t work unless the child lives here. People call today (for shoots or auditions) tomorrow, and the parent has to be with the child.”

On the broadcast side, the demand for child actors begins about ages six to eight, when kids can read a script, up through the teen years. Blanchette says there’s not much demand for the “awkward braces age,” but jobs pick up again at 16 to 18.

Even when a child is accepted for representation, there are no guarantees of getting hired. For those who do work, compensation can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars a year. The average income ranges from $2,000 to $12,000 annually, minus the cost of providing the agency with the child’s photos, which are used to market the youngster. The more a child works, the higher the income.

“One girl made over $50,000 at age five,” Blanchette says. “One child, at 18 months old, did a Pampers box, and every six months, we negotiate to keep using the image. That  child is now 10 years old, so if parents are smart and put the money away for the child, it can add up. Dallas is a smaller market to compete in, so it’s a great place for kids to build their  credits and resumes.”

Beyond the money, both agents say there are more important benefits that children who work in the field receive.

“It builds self-esteem,” Blanchette says. “Kids learn to get out in front of people for auditions, and it it makes them less inhibited. On a film crew or commercial set, they’ll have 50 to 60 people out there, and they learn to accomplish what needs to be done in a certain time.”

Dyer says on the print side, children learn to follow directions and work with adults, which helps them follow instructions in school. The better they do in school, the more likely administrators are to let the kids out of class to attend auditions or to do jobs.

“The children who do well are a little bit more mature,” Dyer says. “Most of our kids are straight-A students and do extracurricular activities. We don’t want them to miss out on things growing up, like a Valentine’s Day party at school or birthday party. We think it’s important for them to have that normality.”

When it comes to finding a reputable agency, Blanchette recommends checking with your city’s film commission or with the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles (www.sag.org). She notes that a legitimate agency should never charge for representing a child.

And one last piece of advice to parents…

“Let your child be your guide,” Blanchette says. “If they want to do it, back them wholeheartedly. But if you want to do it, then you do it, and leave your child out of it.”

December 22, 2010

Open hearts for greater treasures

Posted in Between Us column, Employment, Relationships, Women at 9:53 pm by dinaheng

One of my dearest friends has suffered with clinical depression for years, going into periods when she is unable to get dressed and go out into the world to do anything. There are periods when she will sit at home, battling some unspoken fear, while her husband and family try to carry on with life around her, while taking care of her at the same time.

She fell into one of her funks a few weeks ago, canceling every walk, movie, or lunch date we tried to make. One day, she knocked on my door, and I opened it to find her standing there with a piece of cake, lit with a candle, on a elegant crystal plate. She wanted to wish me a happy birthday, and while she couldn’t say anything more than that before giving me a hug and leaving, I was so happy.

Despite her fear, her wish to share an act of love got her out of the house. I don’t know how long this period of depression will last, but I know she will come out of it because love and goodness is stronger than any fear we may hold.

This has been a difficult year for many of us. Industries of every ilk continue to change, the economy continues to seem uncertain, and friends we once worked with have moved on to other things. Many of us wonder how we can move forward to create something better for ourselves? How can we become innovators and entrepreneurs, and dream up ways to make more money?

The answer is very simple. We must remember that life is not just about us — it’s about ALL of us. To succeed at anything, we must live a life of service.

On the level of new product development and industry change, what do others need, and what can we do to meet that need?  On a personal level, what do the people around us  need, and what can we do to help them?  It’s all about how we look at the world, and give of ourselves.

The way we think, the things we say… it all has an affect on how Life then unfolds.

Want the economy to get better? Start thinking positively. Start talking as if things are already better, then do what you need to do to make it so. If you’re a business owner holding profits close to the vest, start hiring people. If you’re a consumer who’s been afraid to buy anything, buy something you may need and can afford… if not for yourself, then for someone else who needs it more.

One of my friends works for a company that has laid off many workers in the last year. The company cut her department down to two people and a temporary employee. Since there’s more work to be done among the three, my friend works overtime five days a week to get her share done.

She’s getting paid for the overtime, and is told that it’s less expensive for the company to pay the extra money to her than it is to hire another full-time employee and pay the benefits. But how long can anyone work under these kind of conditions?

Like everyone who’s employed these days, my friend is grateful to have a job. But from my point of view, companies that operate like this are practicing slave labor tactics, forcing employees to work more for fear of losing their jobs.

So what is my friend doing with her overtime salary? She’s saving it, and at the same time, has signed up to be a “Christmas Angel” for people who are less fortunate. In addition to family gifts for the holidays, she’s buying for strangers in need.

The holidays will be coming to a close before we know it. The season of giving thanks and sharing what we have comes to an end on December 31. But the spirit of the season can, and should, be with us year-round.

Wherever we are in life, there are always people who have more than we do, and people  who have less than we do. What matters is sharing what we have with others.

So share your time, your attention, your talents, your imagination, your patience, your encouragement, and your understanding with others. Open your heart to others, and you’ll discover that goodness has no bounds.

We have the power to overcome depression and fear… even when it’s called a recession.



August 19, 2009

Behind the scenes in Hollywood…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Television at 9:25 pm by dinaheng

Aaron LaPlante drives the tram around Warner Bros. Studios, sharing the story of how TV shows and movies are made to the tourists who have come for a behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood studio.

I’ve been on a number of sets, watching the filming of movies and TV shows, but have never taken a tram tour, so am curious to see what it’s like.

LaPlante, a former tour guide in Seattle, rattled off bits of trivia at every turn. He tells us that the Burbank, Calif. lot sits on 110 acres, and that 10,000 people a day work there.dinah-eng-21

“The Warner brothers were originally exhibitors, and from 1923 to 1927, they started making silent films,” LaPlante says. “Their biggest star was ‘Rin Tin Tin.’ “

Ah, no wonder celebrities often complain as though they live a dog’s life.

It’s fun to see the make-believe streets, stores, and parks that stand in for reality on film. At  the “transportation department” stop, we get to see a number of familiar vehicles, including two Batmobiles, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, and Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine van.

Being a big Harry Potter fan, the best part of the tour for me was walking through an exhibit of Harry Potter memorabilia. Funny how much of our lives are spent imagining a life that’s different than the one we’re living.

As children, we learn from stories about others, and aspire to become like those we admire. As adults, we escape from the “ordinary” routine of our lives by watching TV shows and movies for entertainment. We live vicariously through some characters, learn empathy for strangers, and explore our values while discussing what we’ve watched.

As media companies have cut budgets, TV and movie critics have been among the first staff members to be let go or reassigned. News executives don’t see entertainment as being vital to society, but nothing connects people around the world like the TV shows and films that we watch.

Tourists flock to Hollywood in hopes of seeing celebrities, and tours like the one on the Warner Bros. lot give a taste of what it’s involved in creating fantasies on screen.

LaPlante walks us down Hennesy Street, originally designed with a Lower East Side New York feel for the movie “Annie.” He shows how various parts of the street were reused for the Batman films and other productions.

Getting back into the tram, we pass the set where “ER” was filmed for many years, and where the upcoming ABC series “Eastwick” is being made.

“No two tours are alike,” LaPlante says. “We go out with a trainer and drive the lots, learning about every single piece of equipment and building on the lot. So when I’m not walking a tour group through something, I talk about the history, or technical aspects of filmmaking.”

Tour guides go through 27 days of training, and are often young people looking to break into the entertainment industry. Given the amount of information that must be memorized, the guides no doubt learn more about movie making than they ever wanted to know.

They may not be able to say, “Lights… camera… action,” but who knows where they’ll end up. Today’s tour guide may well become tomorrow’s studio executive or star.

Dreams, after all, are meant to come true.

August 13, 2009

Managing anxiety in the age of uncertainty

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment at 3:54 am by dinaheng

It was nearly midnight when I got into the taxicab at Boston’s Logan International Airport. When I asked the driver to take me to a nearby hotel, he couldn’t help but express his frustration.

“I’ve been waiting in line for two and a half hours for a fare, and now I have to take you to the closest place I’m required to drive to,” he said, angrily. “Business has gone down to nothing since the first of August.”

Ten minutes later, after I paid the $25 fare and tip, he pulled my suitcase out of the trunk, dropped it in the middle of the street and drove off. The street was deserted at that hour, so I hurried into the hotel, glad to be away from his negative energy.dinah-eng-21

Every year, I attend the national convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, a gathering of professional colleagues in the news media industry. The topic on everyone’s mind is, “Am I going to have a job tomorrow?”

As the Internet has opened new channels of communication, traditional media companies have lost many print readers and broadcast viewers. Media companies, like many industries, have undergone massive reorganizations — laying off workers and consolidating operations — while searching for a new business model for their products.

Journalists, like everyone we write about, are worried about the economy and job security. As the Internet has forced us to deal with constant change, job security has become non-existent. Change is becoming the new “business as usual,” and for many, constant change has created constant anxiety.

In the current economy, anxiety has permeated most everyone’s life. Whether you’re a worried journalist or an angry cab driver, it’s important to deal with those feelings before you get overwhelmed.

Ron Brown, president of Banks Brown, a management consultant firm in San Francisco that specializes in developing strategies to manage changing organizational culture, says coping with unrelenting anxiety is a needed skill in today’s world.

“Anxiety is a hidden source of strength,” Brown says. “It forces us to make choices. Managing your anxiety is a key component of maintaining your equilibrium. The question becomes how do you live with anxiety and convert it to something positive?”

Brown offers several tips:

* Enrich and utilize your personal relationships for personal support. “This is a time to look outward, beyond the workplace,” Brown says.

* Every day, factor in some activity that gives you pure, personal pleasure.

* If maintaining your routine is reassuring, do that. If you’re in a routine rut, get out and explore some things you haven’t done. “It can be as simple as driving a new route to work,” Brown says. “Use your anxiety to vary your routine.”

* Plan moments of laughter. “Laughter is one of the greatest relievers of stress,” Brown notes. “Got see a funny movie, or rent a DVD of a comedy series. Make sure you get a steady diet of laughter, which creates more endorphins in the body to combat stress.”

* Manage your workload, and manage your time. “A lot of people who constantly communicate on their BlackBerries are just trying to manage their anxiety,” he observes. “Examine your assumptions about work, and realize that there’s an abundance of time.”

* Get 8 hours of sleep every night to ensure enough rest for the body to remain healthy.

* Be aware of your spirituality. “Whether it’s meditative yoga, church, synagogue or personal prayer, be mindful that there’s a Source in life greater than yourself,” Brown says. “You’ll be more patient with what’s happening around you. As things swirl around, it’s much more imperative to stay centered inside.”

As long as we are alive, we are always in transition to somewhere. We may stop now and then to breathe, thinking that things have finally ”come back to normal.” But the truth is, the next change is always around the corner.

We must learn to take deep, steady breaths throughout life, and remember to enjoy the journey, for now is all there is. Even when we’re dumped in the middle of a street at midnight.

June 18, 2009

Do you love your job?

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Spirituality at 2:07 am by dinaheng

In a world where most of us spend much — if not most — of our waking hours working, thinking about work, dreading work, or postponing work, two authors are urging us to take a step back and look at what work really means to us.

Philosopher Alain de Botton, author of “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” (Pantheon Books, $26), recently made an audience at The Getty Center in Los Angeles twitter — aloud — at his witty observations of today’s workaholics.

“To be alive in the modern age is to never be far from a career crisis,” De Botton says. “We exhaust ourselves partly through megalomania. We’ve come to believe the essence of a person is what we do. People ask, ‘What do you do?’ not just to find out about status and connections, but to find out about our identity.”

Yet who we are, as human beings, has less to do with the way we earn money than the way we treat ourselves and others. De Botton’s book explores a number of occupations, ranging from fisherman to aircraft salesman to painter, giving witness to what his subjects did every day.dinah-eng-21

What isn’t as clear are the answers to the questions he explores… What makes work pleasurable? How do we decide what jobs to pursue? In a time of economic uncertainty, what meaning does work have?

“Work becomes meaningful when we’re able to either alleviate suffering or produce delight for someone else,” De Botton says. “Most people are stuck in such large systems that’s it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference with your work. Eighty percent of Americans work in a company with more than 500 employees. There isn’t enough meaningful contact.”

So how do we create more meaning in our work?  In our lives? Chris Gardner, owner and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC and the inspiration for the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness” (which starred Will Smith as Chris), says it all in the title of his new book, “Start Where You Are…Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” (Amistad, $26.99).

“Focus on achieving balance in your life, and not just balance in your checking account,” Gardner says. “Then ask yourself, what is the one thing that turns you on like nothing else in the world? Find the passion, then figure out how to do it. Forget Plan B. A lot of people go for Plan B, which is practicality. There is no Plan B for passion. Plan B is for everybody not committed to Plan A.”

Whatever plans many of us had in the last couple of years have been tossed out the window with a recession that’s cut into our savings and eliminated jobs in every sector. But as Gardner points out, there are opportunities all around us if we’ve brave enough to really answer the question: What is it I’d really like to do with my life?

For those who have been laid off, Gardner advises forgetting about finding another job.

“You’re not going to find a job right now,” Gardner says. “Focus on creating an opportunity for yourself. You’ve lost your job, but you haven’t lost your skills and talent. What do you enjoy? Detroit’s ground zero for the unemployment rate, but those workers all have skills. It’ll be interesting to see how many people there take those skills and do something with them.”

His book is filled with practical and inspirational advice for how to get to the next place in your life — whether that next place is centered around work or a personal goal. The lessons are to the point, in your face, and full of positive energy.

Chapter headings tell the story — “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Yesterday?,” “Supply and Demand Ain’t Rocket Science,” “It Takes as Much Energy to Bag an Elephant as It Does a Mouse” or “Make Your Dream Bigger Than Yourself.”

Whether it’s work or home, many of us hold onto limiting behaviors because of what we were taught. Gardner says we’re all made of spiritual genetics. We were given our parents’ physical attributes, but we don’t have to emulate their behavior or values.

“A lot of us, when we wind up on our butts, need to ask, ‘How did I get here?’ “ Gardner says. “The answer is, ‘I drove here.’ That answer is empowering because then I can say, ‘I can also drive out of here.’ The cavalry ain’t coming to the rescue. We were all born with a spirit that can embrace the light or the darkness. I believe we choose the soul of who we are.”

So if life (or your job) isn’t working out the way you want, maybe it’s time to do something about it.

May 24, 2009

Asians still see prejudice in TV jobs

Posted in Diversity, Employment, Television at 10:54 pm by dinaheng

Being an Asian American in television isn’t the rarity it used to be. There are increasing numbers of Asian actors, writers, directors and executives in the industry today, but those in the mix say there is still a long way to go before opportunity equates acceptance on the job.

Most say they’ve experienced some form of prejudice at work—comments about their race in the writers room, remarks about their cultural background on set, things no one would say for attribution.

To read this Television Week column, click here.

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