1 terabyte of guilty storage

Be aware: What you save in cash on a yard sale bargain may cost you in karma. This is the story of my new 1-terabyte hard drive.

I don’t feel at all guilty about the new iMac I bought for my office. I am, however, experiencing some real stress about the brand-new 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive I’m using to handle Time Machine backups for the iMac.

That’s because I only paid $5 for it.

At a yard sale.

Here’s the story:

garage sale writer wayOn a bright sunny Saturday last summer, we were headed off on errands when we detoured to follow a yard sale sign. We found ourselves on a neat little block where the corner house had tables and clothing racks set out. It was a real “chick” yard sale — like a chick flick, but all the squealing is over inexpensive Nordstrom clothing rather than cute guys. Two perky blonde moms with their adorable blond children had set out a sale of gently used clothing, toys, and decor items. Tom, probably with a mind to accruing points so that he could thoroughly  investigate a subsequent yard sale full of DVDs, wandered around while I perused the racks of elegant clothing, looking for something that was not too floral or pastel. As I recall, I found a nice navy blue scarf. I didn’t pay much attention when Tom waved a bright green shrink-wrapped box at me and said “Only five dollars.”

“Sure,” I said, vaguely registering something called “My Book.” I figured it was a kid’s toy of some kind, or perhaps a little gadget for digital photos.

It was only the following day that I saw the “My Book” on our mail table, took a close look, and realized it was a brand-new 1-terabyte hard drive. I looked online and discovered that it sells at places like OfficeMonster for between $125 and $175.

“That much?” Tom marveled. He’d assumed it was something old and out of date.

Obviously, there’d been a terrible mistake at the yard sale. But we couldn’t remember where the yard sale had been. On the way to the store the next day, we drove through the neighborhood where the sale had been, but the sale signs were down and all the neat little blocks looked the same.

So, there we were. With somebody’s expensive hard drive, and a bit of guilt.

But, wait — the story gets worse. Or better, depending on your sense of humor.

A week or two after the yard sale, I was at the local OfficeMonster buying what I always seem to be buying there — HP ink cartridges. I got into the checkout line and sighed. Our local OfficeMonster has a cashier ( let’s call her Brunhilde) who is slow as an ancient laser printer. She asks you if you need any of their weekly specials and goes through each item while you vehemently say “No” to each one. She asks if you have your special coupons — and clucks at you if you don’t. She asks if you have your OfficeMonster Preferred Dinosaur card. And she enunciates every syllable of it all.

The handsome man in front of me in the line looked about ready to strangle Brunhilde. He was clearly in  a hurry. He had only one item on the counter, was waving cash, and his two adorable little blond children were tugging at his leg.

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

“Daddy’s hurrying,” he told them through clenched teeth, as Brunhilde droned her way through a list of weekly specials.

She finally rang up the purchase, and that’s when I noticed the item the fellow was buying. It was a  bright green shrink-wrapped box. It looked familiar. So, come to think of it, did the two adorable little blond children. I’d seen them, and a 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive, before. At that yard sale.

I opened my mouth. And closed it. And opened my mouth again. And closed it.

This was tricky. I realized that if I told this man I’d purchased his hard drive at a yard sale a few weeks earlier, I stood a chance of creating a larger problem than I was solving. If he’d been assured by his wife that his hard drive was “probably lost,” and I stepped forward with information that confirmed his darkest suspicions that it had been “lost” in her yard sale — well, things could get ugly. And then there was Brunhilde. Triggering something that would result in her having to void a purchase would hardly make us popular with the long line of OfficeMonster customers already fidgeting behind me.

While I stood there weighing my options, the two adorable blond children were dragging their grouchy dad and his new hard drive out of the store and into the parking lot. Brunhilde had grabbed my ink cartridges and launched into her recitation of the weekly specials. I nodded along, in a daze. To her delight and amazement, I accidentally bought 10 reams of OfficeMonster paper.

At least someone was having a good day.

That night, I told Tom what had happened — and not happened — at the office supplies store.

“Oh my,” was all he said.

I’m now enjoying the 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive, but remain aware that what I saved in cash I probably spent in karma. So we’ve resolved that the next time we have a yard sale we’ll include one or two really spectacular bargains.


Age discrimination over 50: Are you a victim — or a perp?

Are you a victim of age discrimination — or are you a perpetrator? Some of the ugliest and most inaccurate stereotypes about over-50 professionals come from over-50 professionals themselves.

I’ve been reading discussions (on LinkedIn:Seattle and other forums) about age discrimination experienced by older professionals — discussions filled with anecdotes about incidents in which a company discouraged, ignored, or rejected a qualified over-50 job applicant for reasons related to their age.

I’m sure that many of the stories are true. And I suspect that, as a contractor, I sometimes lose opportunities based on my age and companies’ stereotypes about people over 50.

However, I’ve been reluctant to get into these discussions. That’s because I don’t have any objective data to bring to the table and posting yet another indignant individual tale of woe just fuels the general climate of self-righteous victimhood.

But now I have something to say. It’s based on reading a recent essay by a man who is well over 50. I’m not going to name the essayist, or even describe the essay in detail. What caught my attention was that at several points in the article the writer referred to himself as “out of date,” “ancient,” no longer active in the field, etc., etc. I realized that if an editor had removed that self-denigration and those apologies, I would have had no idea of the writer’s age. The essay topic itself would have been a logical one for an expert of any age in the field, and the writer’s age had nothing to do with his conclusions, or his ability to reach them.

So, what’s going on here?

Why do I keep encountering older professionals who seem compelled to make age an issue, to describe themselves and their peers over 50 as less technically competent and less intellectually nimble, and to do so at great length. I’m mystified by this stereotyping, and, as someone over 50, I’m annoyed. Because when I go in to talk with a prospective client who is 20 years younger than me, the chances are that they’ve recently encountered someone like the self-deprecatory essayist and are afraid that I’ll go off on a similar tangent.

Or they may have recently attended a professional meeting, like the one I was at last month, at which an older participant made sweeping, derogatory comments about the technical abilities of her over-50 peers.

I'm over 50 and totally confused.
I’m over 50 and a mess.
I'm over 50 and highly competent.
I’m over 50 and competent.

The meeting was a small seminar about new features for some website software we were all using for our businesses. The attendees were asked to introduce themselves. The younger men and women in the room all introduced themselves in a professional manner, describing their businesses and why they were interested in the new software features. But five of the over-50 participants proceeded to describe themselves as being afraid of technology, probably doing the wrong thing, and having no idea of what to do with website software. One woman went on at length about how, “of course, everyone my age is terrified of computers.”

I was embarrassed, and angry.

When the time came for me to introduce myself, I was surprised that I was able to unclench my jaw long enough to say I that I’m a social media communications consultant specializing in online content for technology startups and medical device companies. I left that seminar wondering if it was time to invest in hair dye and Botox.

Before I resort to those, I’m going to make an appeal to my age cohort.

Folks, I’ll be blunt. It’s hard enough dealing with media-fueled societal prejudice against people over 50 without having those of us who should know better mouthing the Madison Avenue script and perpetuating that stereotype. What is the point of running ourselves, and our contemporaries, into the ground?

If you’re having tough time with job interviews, client meetings, or networking events, it’s easy to blame that on age discrimination. But before you do, ask yourself if you are giving people a chance to judge you (and me) on the  basis of professional abilities — or are you frightening them off with your attitude first?

I’m not going to speculate on what’s causing this wave of self-inflicted ageism — there are no doubt many complex factors in play. But I am going to suggest that it stop.

Please get it together. Stop, thinking, acting, and talking as though anyone over 50 in the world of business is a victim. Not only are you sabotaging your own chances of securing good work, you’re taking the rest of us down with you.

It’s better than nagging: A technique for following up on introductions

It’s better than nagging: A technique for following up with qualified prospects.

In the midst of it all, I’m trying out a new technique for wooing customers. I’d been introduced to the MarCom manager at a large company that needs a blog designed, managed, and possibly ghost written — a very promising opportunity for me. I’d sent her a proposal and some samples. She’d responded with interest. But we were having difficulty setting up and doing an actual phone call. She’d cancelled because of some emergencies and didn’t reschedule.

Meanwhile, I was researching the topic of successful B2B blogs for another client and realized that one of the reference articles I’d discovered talked about exactly the marketing problem the prospective client is hoping to solve. (It examined the way that Manpower US had engaged B2B customers by tightly focusing a blog on the topic those customers were most eager to hear about.)

So, instead of whingeing to my prospect that we needed to schedule, I wrote her a note saying I’d been thinking about her project and thought she might like to see what Manpower US had done, providing links to the article.

We’ll see how it works. But I have a good feeling about the technique. At my end, it certainly feels better than nagging.

Update: Two months later I signed a contract with the prospective client.

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