Running A Convention: Stage 2: Financing Your Adventure

“How do I fund my convention?” This is definitely the most common question I receive from potential con directors. Typically, they are hoping I will give them an easy answer–go get a loan from such and such bank. Make it 15,000, and mortgage your house to get it. If you talk to this particular book vendor they will give you loads of money. Here’s the magic.

Unfortunately for all of you, there isn’t actually an easy button. But there are some very straightforward principles that will keep you out of trouble and out of debt. If you can’t follow these, you might want to reconsider running a convention before it ruins your personal financial life.

First of all, let’s clarify. AnomalyCon was started on $147. That broke down to $50 for an LLC, $25 to start a bank account, and the rest was for web domains (and I think we had to pay a couple bucks for some modules for our website). $147 out of pocket. The rest paid for itself.

To do that, you’re going to need some integrity, a website, a business bank account, a paypal account, a business plan (see previous chapters), and a ticket pricing schedule.

And a return policy. This is the most important. Since this is your first year event, you need the website to have information about your plans, and a way to take money. Have a cart with tickets, but make sure that the disclaimer says the tickets will be refunded in case of event cancellation. This is where your integrity comes in.

Now, notice I did NOT say you need a hotel. I didn’t mention location at all, actually. Since this is your first year event, I’m going to advise that your nearest college and cozy up with a member of a student organization. Make friends, then negotiate the use of rooms for the student rate. It might be a weird space, but it will be close to free. In most cases you don’t even have to pay until it’s almost time for the event. AnomalyCon didn’t nail down our space until we’d been taking vendor registrations for a couple of months. Thank goodness, because we needed a bigger space than we had initially scoped.

Now, here’s the key. Go steal vendors from other events.
What I mean by that is–attend other conventions. Find out who’s local. Meet the vendors and talk to them about how they are doing at the show they are at, and whether they’d be interested in a startup show. Charge them maybe $50 for a table, and explain what you’re doing to get attendees. They get the same refund policy in case of cancellation.

If you do it right, the vendors pay for your event space. Your job is to make sure there are enough attendees to make it worth it for them.

Do NOT promise guests that you’ll “pay them if the show does well.” Bad BAD precedent to set, and also without integrity. It’s better to find locals willing to perform/appear for the sake of a first year event than to lie to guests.

Most importantly, budget as though almost no one is going to attend, but plan as though you’ll have great attendance.

Running a Convention: Stage 1: The Business Plan Cheat Sheet

Some of you may remember from last Wednesday’s post that I am releasing mini-notes from my book project on running conventions.

I frequently get asked lots of questions about this process. In part it’s  because there are lots of people looking to start conventions, and in part it’s because AnomalyCon is one of the most successful startup conventions to ever occur in the Denver-Metro area. But more about that later.

Chapter 3 of this book will be entitled “Stage 1: The Business Plan Cheat Sheet.” It has that title because I like nerdy titles, but the truth is that there isn’t a true short cut to planning out your business. However, in this abridged introduction to the chapter I will summarize some key points I would like to drive home.

First of all–and this is vital to your success–you have to treat the convention like a business. There are some key ground rules. You can’t accept personal gain in exchange for convention property. For example, you shouldn’t be exchanging a table in the vendor’s room for a product that vendor carries if you’re keeping that product (prize exchanges might be OK if you want to build your model that way. I don’t).

The very first step you should take is to get out some scratch paper and figure out a few things, like what you’re going to call it. I advise you google any cool names that come to mind and MAKE SURE that they aren’t already in use. If there’s another convention with the same name, find something else. It doesn’t matter if that convention no longer exists (bad juju there) or if it’s in another country (bad SEO for you). Name it something unique. And then think about that name and make sure it doesn’t have an easily-negative connotation. I have a friend who I tease about her con name because it’s easily misconstrued.

Granted, no one can spell AnomalyCon apparently, so we have to put “anomoly” in our metatags too. But these are important things to watch out for.

While you’re at it, figure out about what date you’d like to be on–and make sure it doesn’t conflict with any major events in your area. Don’t just look at other conventions–geeks like to go to renaissance festivals, outdoor rock concerts, etc. Don’t kill your own audience by scheduling the same weekend as an established event.

Now that you’ve named your business (which will be the name of the convention unless you are planning to do other products as well), you need to nail it down. So go get an EIN (so that you have a legal registration with the federal government) and apply for an LLC in your state. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to apply for a not-for-profit status, an LLC will protect you until that paperwork goes through. It’s usually about $50 to get an LLC. So these are the things you can do online, and before you even present your convention ideas to someone else. The other thing you need to do (as soon as you have an LLC and EIN) is go open a business bank account. I advise finding a bank with no minimums, free checking etc. Avoid banks that charge fees just to have an account. A credit union may be a good choice. More on this in the chapter on financing your convention.

So you have an EIN, a bank account and an LLC. Congratulations, the government considers you a business.

Now, your business plan is the next vital step. This is only a sneak peak so I won’t give you the full cheat sheet, but here are some starters.

To succeed, you need to have low expectations but big plans. What I mean is that you need to budget to have little-to-no-income, but plan to have the kind of entertainment and growth that occurs with an influx of attendees. This will keep you out of trouble financially, if you’re careful.

Your business plan needs to cover a minimum five year plan. The first part of this plan should contain your WHY statement, your mission statement in a paragraph or so. This is your driving force. Your next paragraph or so should cover what you want to do differently to set you apart from other conventions.

Now you need to write out how you will make that happen. Your business plan needs to contain your growth goals per year–be realistic. Don’t expect 3,000 people the first year. Don’t expect your entire Facebook friends list to show up either. *Most* first year cons are happy to hit 150-300 people (unless they are backed by major sponsorship, IE a major comic convention). AnomalyCon hit 600, but we were the first Steampunk-related event in a huge radius, and one of the first Steampunk conventions in the U.S.

So let’s say you want to have 150 people year 1 and 600 year 2. If that’s your plan you will need to find a space that will fit the 600, but won’t seem too large with 150. Colleges, student unions, and other event centers are good choices to examine. More on that later.

Write down how you’re going to get an audience. Are you going to hand out fliers? Attend other conventions to garner interest? Hit the forums? How will you pull in new audience? This is the place to brainstorm about things that cost time but not money (or minimal money, such as printing lots of fliers personally).

A lot of this business plan will be about the finances. How much out of pocket will you spend? What is the payback schedule for the convention paying those expenses? The answer to the former should be a small number and the payback schedule should be “after the first event.” Many conventions die the first few years by virtue of bankrupting their proprietors.

Now move from the financing segment to programming. What kinds of programming do you hope to have? Who do you need to talk to to make that happen? Schools? Authors? Artists? Bands? Write out a five-step where each year you are increasing your guest impact.

Now move on to staffing. You’re on your own right now maybe. What does your staff need to look like? Answer: You need at least two leftenants and a number of volunteers that is about 1:10 ratio volunteers to attendees for the first 200 attendees and then about 1:20 after that point. That may seem like a lot of volunteers, but it gives you flexibility if someone is sick for example. As you expand beyond that ~1000 attendee mark you need to expand your leftenants, or you will go crazy. This is where you will write down your plan for recruiting.

Finally, you need to address income intake. Namely, vendors (how many, what kind, what growth rate), and merchandising (what kind and when).

Ultimately, your business plan is a road map to your next five years. It’s important not just for you, but so that you can show people this plan to gain support before you have an event under your belt. If you’re not already notoriously awesome, this is your key to getting that interest.

Next week I’ll touch on the most popular question–financing your adventure.


So You Want to Run A (Convention? Business?)…

I’m working on a book project that will likely release as an ebook. I intend to title it something like “Business Principles for Geeks: So You Want to Run a Convention?”

Yeah, snazzy. Obviously I need to come up with a better title. I’ll get on that after I name my bard. Snarflord Flarghlehopper maybe?

In the process, I’ll post updates and snippets of the idea of where it’s going here. Probably on Wednesdays because today is Wednesday and that just makes sense.

First of all, let’s say you do want to run a business. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that its a convention you desire to run. You should be able to answer all of these questions.

What will the convention be about? Will it be a Pony con, a Whovian adventure? A generic Science-Fiction/Fantasy convention? Who is your audience? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they like to do?

What is your motivation? What’s driving you to make this happen? Why do you care?

Who will help you? Why will they help you? More importantly, why will they help you?

There are those who say that if the WHY is big enough, the HOW won’t matter. I prefer to think of it this way. If your WHY is powerful enough, the HOW HARD won’t stop you.

The facts always count. Success is in the details.

Before you start counting your thousands of planned attendees, picking your venue, rolling out your red carpet, and especially before you quit your regular job, you need to know what you want from this venture. You have to understand why you want to venture outside of your comfort zone.

And remember, this WHY has to be really, really big. Otherwise it won’t survive the five years it will take before you’re established enough to even consider escaping the huge workload you’re about to take on.

Brace yourself.

To understand your end goal, you need to decide what it should be first.

Do you plan to run a successful science fiction convention on an annual basis with positive increase in attendance every year? What does that look like? 500 attendees? 5,000?

Do you desire to have interesting and thought-provoking entertainment content and a well-rounded vendor’s room? Does that mean people are making their own content and programming, or are you controlling the whole schedule yourself?

Now why do you want these things? Is it to become well known in the community? To fill a gap that exists? Are you starting the first convention in your town or joining the ranks of many?

Write your final destination out in positive present tense, and make sure it’s something you can grasp onto. Make sure it really lights a fire in you to think about it happening.

For example, mine for AnomalyCon is this:
“I lead a highly successful convention that grows every year. We provide diverse content that supports authors and artists in their personal growth and chosen career paths while entertaining our attendees. We offer a safe, friendly and diverse environment where everyone can enjoy music, art and literature without fear of harassment.”

Ask yourself why you want to take on this project, or any major project. Until you have the why deep in your gut, your foundation will be shaky at best. This is like the very beginning of your business plan. It’s your mission statement. It’s what defines you. And if you can’t reach inside yourself, Simba, your volunteers won’t know how to find direction either.

So find your Why.

Identifying Plagiarism, Ethical Boundaries and Beyond

This is a really complex and controversial topic, despite the fact that it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I also do not purport myself to be the expert. These are my opinions based on experiences, and they are intended to start a dialogue rather than to be the final stance on anything as sensitive as intellectual property.

First off, let me start by saying that I work in an industry wherein every company makes you sign away intellectual property. If you’re lucky, they only make you sign away the property you actually create while on the clock, and not the ideas and so on and so forth that you produce from the comfort of your own home. This idea that a company can own the very thoughts in your head has been a given, legally, for some time in the technical industries. It makes a lot of copyright law etc very cloudy.

Let me give you a few grounding links. This is the U.S. Government’s take on copyright as a definition.

Ultimately, the key word here is “original work.” Unfortunately, logically this means that research (which involves compiling a bunch of other peoples’ work) isn’t really covered under this definition. However, there is a “Fair Use” clause that dictates that work used for teaching etc is protected against a copyright consideration.

Ultimately, this clause is what protects people who run panels at conventions, for instance, from being sued for referencing their favorite book and movie material when conducting a panel.

Now, enter the concept of plagiarism. This is a new idea in the last couple of centuries. Composers have been copying each others’ work for ages, and nobody complained back then. Now Wikipedia conveniently outlines that plagiarism is pretty unclear in a lot of cases, because the rules are different if a work is collaborative, different if the borrowing of ideas is used for teaching, etc.

I offer up an example from my own experience. It’s a sore subject for me, and one that almost caused me (in a fit of rage) to quit AC entirely.

Last year on a long road trip to go promote the convention, my board members and I were discussing ideas to get more promotion out there. We threw around a lot of thoughts, and one of my board said “We could do some top 10 lists or something.” I ran with that. “Yeah, we could do like a Top Ten Steampunk Travel Destinations, have one destination each day and then a final list go out on Twitter or something of all 10 together.” We agreed it was a cool idea and moved on to discussing slogans and themes for 2015.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I started blogging some Top 10s–Victorian destinations, Steampunk destinations, etc. I did a ton of research and wrote little mini-travel-blogs about it. I was reposting those on my own Facebook page (because I wrote them) but also cross-posting to the AC page because we needed more traffic.

This blew up in my face, because the board member who had suggested the Top Ten lists (just that, no topics for them) was angry that I was posting to my own blog and just building up my own traffic with his idea. The argument between us was that the Top Ten idea was not unique to him, and I did all the research and wrote all the material, so I deserved the credit. Also we didn’t *really* have an AC blog. That was my logic. He was pretty convinced I was using his idea for my own glory. In all but name, he accused me of plagiarism.

So I stopped writing those Top 10 blogs and the other ideas never got realized, because it was that or one of us was quitting. Despite being really really angry about the accusation and all the work I’d put into it, I chose to swallow my pride (and my opinion of what plagiarism is) and salvage what I could of our relationship.

Now, someone’s currently taking pot shots at me indirectly because they think my definition of plagiarism adjusts to suit profitability or something. Not exactly the best way to sway me to their opinion.

Here is my definition, and you can express your own thoughts.
Plagiarism is the unadapted use of another person’s unique creation without permission and without citation for personal gain, specifically claiming it as your own.

I took lots of writing and ethics, legal writing, etc classes in college. I am more than a little comfortable with the discussion of what is legitimately stealing and what is an admiration of understanding. For example, I like to rephrase other peoples’ research to be more understandable when writing research papers. I do cite my materials (because it’s a paper). If I quote somebody or tell a story that isn’t mine in a panel, I usually say “A friend of mine tells a story…” I may not use their name, because no one is retaining that information in a convention panel. If they ask I will tell them, unless it was a mean story about them. As far as I am concerned, a verbal citation in a panel is as good as a footnote, because we’re talking about science fiction conventions here, not science conventions.

Now, when you get down to things like collaborative work, it gets a little funny. For example, I wrote a LOT of RadioSteam episodes, so it’s generally acknowledged that I wrote them all. I think four or five total were guest authored across four seasons of 16 episodes each. However, at the end of each episode, we changed the end credits to credit the author–despite the fact that I heavily edited all of the guest written material. But that’s a downloadable podcast.

If you’re on a panel with someone, people usually assume the material you present is yours and the material they present is theirs. But if you work together to produce a slide show or whatever horrible method of presentation you have, and then you don’t show up to present, and they say “So and so was going to be here but isn’t, so here we go,” is that stealing your portion of the presentation? They acknowledged that you were supposed to be present. Maybe the entire audience doesn’t know who did what, but it isn’t a case of a paper being published with someone else’s name on it.

Now let’s get even better, to collaborative writer’s groups and critique groups and stuff. If we define every unique way of putting things as belonging to the author, we have a problem with writing groups. Let’s say I author a 20-page 2-chapter submission to a contest. And then I get four authors to read over it and give me their opinions. Each one likes or dislikes different things, so I take what I like from their suggestions and rewrite the piece. Now one of those authors is laying claim to the changes I made, and taking credit for those suggestions (although 3 other authors were involved). What kind of dicey mess is that? Is my work still mine? Do editors take ownership of the work once they’ve tweaked it? Is that other author actually violating 4 authors’ rights (including mine) by claiming credit for my changes?

This vortex of cloudy ethical mess can be a disaster, especially since the very accusation of plagiarism (true or false) can utterly ruin an author’s career. Even worse, false accusations not only make the accuser look like a petty person with a personal vendetta, they are rarely held to the same scrutiny as the (so-called) plagiarist.

And then there’s this whole credit problem. Because if we’re really strict about this, panels are going to get dreadfully boring.  

Solomon declared eons ago that there is nothing new under the sun. Unless you’re inventing your own language, I dare say your ideas may not be so unique as you think.

A friend of mine, Peter J. Wacks, wrote a book called Second Paradigm. As I understand it, it’s designed so that you can read any chapter in any order and eventually come to a conclusion. When he described it to me, I thought it sounded weirdly like the movie Memento, which also plays sequential details in the wrong order due to a memory disfunction of the main character. Strangely enough, I never thought to accuse Peter of stealing the movie’s idea or vice versa, because stuff like that happens. Part of the creative process is realizing that other creative minds will trigger brilliance in you that you would not otherwise be able to put into expression. That’s why writing and critique groups are so important.

But if we fear that sharing ideas will lead to accusations of plagiarism or claims of what we have legitimately worked on, how can we ever be bold enough to go forward in social groups of inventors, authors, and writers.

A different pair of friends recently have been estranged because of the accusation of plagiarism. I was presented with the evidence that one writer’s research was used without his permission in the other writer’s presentation during a panel. More accurately, the permission and research were offered freely in bullet-point form, until for whatever reason that I don’t claim to need to understand, the accuser revoked permission (and asked that his name be removed from the presentation) a few hours before that panel teaching was to occur. The accuser states that he read over 200 books to come to his conclusions and is unhappy that his research went uncredited. However, in his work as presented by him to me, I never saw a single case of citation of the novels he read and gained those ideas from. In other words, he was claiming someone else’s work as his own… By his own strict definition, in fact.

Please realize I am friends with both of these people, and they were in a collaborative writing group together before this happened.

Right now I feel like I am dealing with a pair of authors who feel that they are Tesla and Edison. Except that instead of inventing, they are both expressing an idea of what they believe is a success point in someone else’s work. It’s not a new thing they have invented. They are embroiled in a sociological war over whether round lightbulbs work better than square ones. But neither of them invented the lightbulb.

Is this the author version of the Superbowl?

The Resolution, Revisited

I know you’d probably rather see a post about resolutions on New Years Day, when it really matters. But the truth is, it’s a good time to check in. How are you holding out? Have you done something today that you resolved yesterday to do?

Many families have some kind of good luck charm they use to carry their wishes into the next calendar year. For some (like my extended family) it’s the belief that a hamhock cooked in black eyed peas brings good luck. For others it might be the jotting down of hopes, dreams, and ideas that boil down to good intentions for the new year. Others still believe that a kiss at midnight is the key to happiness for the next year.

Whatever you believe, even the most pessimistic of us likely resolve to do something important for the next year.

Some of the best resolutions I’ve heard have been to read more books, to write more, to love more, to live unfettered by doubt and stress.

Most commonly people tend to make resolutions to do very big things, such as working out every single day or losing a lot of weight. These are so common that gyms raise their prices during Jan/Feb in anticipation of all the new signups. If you want a 24-hour-fitness gym membership, get it in July, not January.

Most people break down and revert to old habits before the end of January, and that’s based on the anatomy of habits in general. It takes 3 weeks to really establish a good habit, and longer if it’s replacing a bad habit. More importantly, going from zero activity to an hour working out every day is too difficult for your body to keep up with. Change is difficult, so you have to take baby steps.

The most important advice I can give anyone is to make it easy for their habit change. For example, if you’re not a morning person, don’t choose to work out at 6am every morning. If you work 12 hour shifts, try not to work out right after you get off work. If you’ve never worked out before, start by taking walks or following through a Yoga DVD for a month before upgrading to the expensive gym membership that will make you feel miserable and guilty for not using it.

A friend of mine recently said that she feels resolutions are like birthday wishes–if you tell everyone, it won’t happen. That might be true, but you certainly need an accountability partner.

From my business excursions and training I’ve come to understand some important concepts about resolutions and goal setting. One of them is the idea that your life and goals are like a big jet. It takes a lot of fuel to get off the ground at the beginning of the month, but not so much fuel to keep it in flight. If you let the plane land, though, you have to keep working to get the energy going to start back up again. It’s easier to keep moving forward.

My suggestion, then, is that every day you decide not to go to bed each night before you have done something that has advanced your goals. If your plan is to become a published author, write at least a paragraph or edit something before bed. If you want to read more books, read ten pages before bed every night. If you want to work out and lose weight, start doing a few situps or stretches right before bed, and raise the number gradually every night. If you want to run a marathon, walk around your block today. Tomorrow, walk it twice. Keep increasing the number of trips around the block, day by day.

Next, I advise that you write your goals down in present positive, and read them daily. Write them down as though they exist for you today. “I am fit, friendly and sociable. I am successful at work and I have been promoted this year.” Train your subconscious to go out and get what you want. Never write goals that are negative or that involve other people doing things. The only person you can change is yourself.

A mentor of mine tells the joke that three birds are sitting on a fence. One decides to fly off the fence. How many are left?

The answer is three.

Ultimately, a resolution is just a wish until the flame of action is applied to it. Once you make a decision and put action behind the decision, you can accomplish great things.

In Defense of Consumerism – It’s not what you think.

This post is written from the perspective of someone who worked in retail for 6 years, joined the entrepreneurial market at a young age, has studied micro and macro economics, and social behavior. I own a number of small (very small, in some cases) businesses, run a company with over 50 active volunteers, and still work a corporate job with a company whose name usually strikes envy (or sympathy) into the hearts of the educated.

I have a variety of great friends out there, many of whom are small business owners who make their own jewelry/clothes/whatever. Some of them are photographers, some are massage therapists, and so on. But by and large, most of my small business owner friends have come out this year in vitriolic wrath at the entire concept of Black Friday. In my heyday I also laughed at the jokes that “only in America” could we be thankful for everything we have one day and then kill each other for greed the next. This post is NOT to tell you about the best deals on Black Friday, because a combination of Ad Sites and Blogs can do that (links provided for reference only).

And now, Black Friday has finally encroached right up into Thanksgiving, a holiday probably more secular and certainly less controversial than those to follow. In my day (which wasn’t that long ago, since my last Black Friday worked was in 2008) opening at 6am was a Big Deal. People camping out overnight was a Big Deal. I think that was the same year that someone got trampled to death at a Walmart… (Someone got stabbed in the parking lot of my Circuit City too, but I don’t know where the article is for that one).

When I first left Circuit City in its downward death spiral, only a few days before they closed their doors for the last time, I swore I would never shop a Black Friday OR work another Black Friday again. The experience was exhausting, and a terrifying examination of human nature. My understanding of it all coalesced when, in the middle of the day on Friday, a poor retired couple asked me why the line was 63 people long when all they needed was an HDMI cable. They had no idea about Black Friday.

The word is that Black stands for the books of most retail stores going from in the red to in the black–but those who work retail know it really means that Black Friday is a dark and unholy day, filled with screaming soccer moms and insane cheapskate dads.

So that’s the bad side. Black Friday is encroaching on one of our few remaining feast days (wait, what? We eat and drink like maniacs whenever we are given the chance!) and besides, family.

Here’s the thing. Our economy is very much consumer driven. And that sucks for those who can’t crank out enough of whatever they make to have a crazy pseudo-cheap sale where millions of people flock to buy, buy, buy. It can be argued that this buying mentality is a direct cause of the people seeking holiday jobs. But a lot of the people who work in retail stores are students, both high school and college students. In the grand scheme of social stigma, people would rather work retail than be fast food employees, and they have some shred of a chance of improving their lot in life (look at my experience–from $8/hr to $42/hr in 6 years without my degree having an impact). And more retailers are hiring which means more jobs.

Are they great jobs? No, probably not. Most starting wages for the big hitting retailers like Walmart are barely above minimum wage. I remember my first year at Circuit City, I was hired on at $8.25 and all the holiday employees came in at $7.25. Our boss gave a speech then–they were basically there for Black Friday. Failing to show up that day was the same as handing in their resignations.

Now, let’s back up from retail and look at all of the other components involved. Shipping. Advertising. Planning. Product placement. Manufacturing is mostly overseas, but that’s true even on normal days of the year. The manufacturing side of the coin is being handled by places where business is still stuck in the industrial age.

Buying a bunch of stuff online means a whole bunch of peoples’ jobs are less necessary. Now, I’m an avid proponent of Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, etc. But one of the reasons their prices are lower a lot of times is because they have fewer employees to worry about. Lower rent. Lower overhead. It’s simple business.

The sales surrounding Black Friday have become a mad tradition–but sometimes they are the only time that some people can afford things that appear nicer–like TVs, computers, etc. Others, little known to the world, are buying up those electronics to hawk on Ebay/Craigslist later. I expect this will especially be the case with the tablets and Ipads on sale this year (For the record, that $300 ipad is only $312 right now on Amazon with no wait).

If you are worried about family, you could always be like these people.

All of this being said, I finally came around and decided to start checking out Black Friday deals. I price compare, of course, like any smart shopper. I would never camp out for anything, cheap or otherwise. But for me, it’s not about saving a few dollars–it’s about the myriad of emotions, the crazy whirlwind of people, the invigorating experience of seeing humanity in its most base form–when thrown together like primal man, all hunting for the same things.

I would advise, for those of you out there, that you shop smart if you shop Black Friday. Many electronics deals that are doorbusters are actually exclusively manufactured for the sale–which means they are built in a hurry and frequently cut corners. This is most true for TVs and computers. Be wary of cheaper-than-they-should-be laptops and TVs, because they are utilizing lower than standard parts even if they are name brand. Clothing is a good bet, and if you are buying electronics verify that the model is one available all the time.

I am not defending the manic obsession with objects that people are all on the bandwagon decrying this year. But understand that with that focus of buying dollars comes something more–human interaction, jobs for starving college students, and a continuation of the brick-and-mortar store. Our economy was built on the backs of small business owners, but that was prior to the concept of mass engineering. In this day and age, small business owners must learn to market themselves and dig a niche in the consumerist market–or be buried under a cascade of barbie dolls and strangle-me-Elmos (Now THIS is a toy that pawns off the affection you should be showing your kids. Seriously).

I am not your sister! An observation of behavior in the workplace.

I apologize for the delay in some posts–NaNoWriMo has devoured my soul this month. Also, rant alert.

Recently I have been embroiled in passionate discussions with some men and other women about my experiences working with male peers in the workplace–particularly those in a certain age range older than I am. While I was doing a little digging to find similar experiences with others, I found this horrible article that I REALLY hope is satire (but based on his other posts, can’t possibly be) and this one with the terrible advice to treat everyone you work with like family. And a whole lot of awkwardly conservative blogs advising that women control men’s sexuality, yadda yadda.

So, with my luck in research, I’m not going to be citing a lot. Instead, I’m going to talk about my own experiences. You can agree or disagree with my interpretation of them, but remember that I have personally experienced these and therefore it really happened. I encourage you to share your own experiences, provided they aren’t “well, I’ve only ever experienced perfect gentlemen in the work place, and you’re just prejudiced against male coworkers.” Not true. I have dozens of male coworkers, and I only have this problem with three of them.

First, let me say that I have worked with my brother, with my wife, and with my mother. I have also been known to tell people who volunteer under me that I’ve got so many younger siblings that I am stuck in permanent “big sister” mode–which has been my way of explaining when I worry about what people eat, whether they are drinking too much, etc. However, I have never used that attitude as an excuse to bully people into taking the actions at work that I expect of them. And as I am realizing how frustrating I find this series of events, I am also making the effort to let people figure out their own eating habits without my help.

As some of you may know, I have been in the IT field for about 11 years–for the first 6 of those in a retail capacity, but nonetheless. As I moved into the more professional sector, I have encountered many male figures of nonauthority who seem driven to take it upon themselves to be my “protector.”
And while it might seem nice to have someone big, tall, with a booming voice or whatever rushing over to get you out of sticky situations every time you talk yourself into a corner–that’s not what is actually going on here.

At the moment I have only two key examples of this, but there were three before one of them moved on from the company. All at the same time.

Exhibit A: Individual decides he likes me. So any time anyone mentions my name, he makes sure I know about it. But that also means that he doesn’t want me to move out of the role I am in, he wants to keep his “little sister” around. So he tells me stories about how this person or that person is holding me back, trying to pit me against other coworkers.
Oh, and he always warns me to watch my back if I get into a verbal sparring match with someone. (This is the person who is now gone).

Exhibit B: This one picks fights with me via email to “show me” that I need to learn to be more positive and present more solutions via email, instead of only presenting what won’t work. That would be a totally valid point if it came to me in a private conversation instead of a CC-all fight wherein he ribs me for not having my usual humor.
Oh yeah, he usually tells me he thinks of me as a little sister. But he also sends me emails saying “Really? Why would you say something like that with people CCed?” and then doesn’t realize I am being sarcastic when I tell him “Thanks for your dedication to my career.” He likes to say people are “always” saying that I “always have  negative things to say,” but of course can never provide examples.

Exhibit C: This guy does it to everybody, not just me. I should say, all the women. He pokes and prods. He tries to tickle me. He pretends to punch me in the face and teases me if I flinch. He walks up behind me and rubs my shoulders. He’s constantly coming up with weird pet names. He’d totally be the perfect big brother, except we’re not related and I work with him. Did he ever check in with me to see if I was cool with being touched? Nope. Not even a little.

So here’s where there is a pretty fine line. I’m casual friends with each of these people, and I am also personally a fairly open individual. So it’s not like I am hiding my family life or personality from anyone I work with.
However, what I have found in my own experiences is that this sliding over the line from “colleague I like” to “my little sister” eliminates something that drives the coworker to actually listen when someone like me says “Stop that! I’m really bothered by this thing you are doing!”

It also appears to be a convenient and patriarchal way for these men to try to make me do what they want–because they just want what’s best for me, because they are more experienced and know about these things, because I am raw, unfiltered, loud, etc etc and will make waves or make enemies…

Don’t get me wrong. I like having friends at work. I like chatting about non-work things. I don’t like being told by a peer who has no management clout over me that I’m going to get myself in trouble if I don’t toe his imaginary line.

The last two of these both have daughters, so I suppose I should be grateful that they aren’t treating me like a daughter?

Interestingly, I have foils to these people in the real world who don’t treat me this way. I haven’t been able to determine if it’s the difference in perceived respectability (IE at work I’m one of many, outside of work I have other accomplishments) or if it’s just flat out personality of these people.

So now that the rant half of this is out, and most likely one part babble, let’s talk about the behaviors.

Essentially, a friend would point out “Hey, you might want to consider rephrasing that,” or “Hey, I think a breather is in order.” They would not say “You need to change your behavior and/or do this thing my way because I have your best interests at heart and I know what’s best for you.”

You know what? You don’t know what’s best for me. If it’s not OK for the government or my father or a random stranger to dictate who I am (and it isn’t!), it also isn’t OK for a colleague to take on the role of some kind of protector who can only protect me by telling me what to do. You don’t have my back. You have what you think is a leash. And I am not yours to tame, my friend.

I promised I was done ranting, but I guess that’s not entirely true. Ultimately, my point is that no adult can prove their own value and respectability when being overshadowed by a “big brother” figure who insists on holding their hand whether they want it or not. Get out of the way and let me succeed or fail on my own merit.