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Monday, May 21, 2012

Out of the Office

This week I'm taking a vacation, so I won't be posting.  I'll be back next week though!

Friday, May 18, 2012

How I Saved Hundreds on My Sofa

Recently my husband gave me the ultimatum that our sofa is not allowed to move with us for our upcoming move.  He had good reason; the sofa was ugly, cheap, uncomfortable, and had been shredded on all sides by my sweet kitty.  Unfortunately, that left us with the challenge of finding a new couch.

We had lots of competing interests when it came to the new sofa.  We wanted it to be high quality, attractive, and inexpensive.  Obviously, those qualities don't always go together.  I was especially reluctant to drop a lot of money on a sofa that my cat might claw.  We shopped around, trying to figure out what styles suited us and to get an idea of prices.

Then a few weeks ago a good friend happened to mention that she was interested in selling her sofa because she was preparing to move cross-country.  I knew this friend and this sofa well, and was excited that I could get such a high quality couch for her asking price of $100.  The only downside was that the sofa was plaid.  Not an offensive plaid at all, but not exactly the look we were going for, either.

We decided to go ahead and buy the sofa without any real plan for how we were going to deal with the plaid.  I looked into having it reupholstered, but discovered that it would be prohibitively expensive.  Then, I began searching the web for slipcovers and got really lucky.  Ikea has a slipcover for a sofa with almost the exact shape of the sofa that we had just purchased!  I took the measurements of our sofa and they were similar to the measurements of the slipcover, so I ordered it and waited with anticipation.

When the slipcover arrived I put the cushion covers on first, and they fit!  Next was the cover for the sofa itself.  We pulled and tugged but were not able to get the cover on.  The shape was just right, but the cover was about six inches too short.  It couldn't quite fit from one arm all the way down the sofa to the other arm.

At this point I was disheartened, but my husband saw a possibility.  He suggested that we cut the slipcover down the middle and add an insert of matching fabric to bridge the space.  I thought that he was crazy, but I gave him permission to give it a go.  He headed off to the fabric store (yes, my husband sews) and returned with a fabric almost identical to our slipcovers.

I went to dinner with a friend and returned to find a beautiful, slip-covered couch in my living room!  Somehow he pulled it off!  You can definitely see the seams of the insert, but it looks like it has always been part of the slipcover.  The fabric blends in perfectly.

The Ikea Ektorp sofa bed slipcover.  The same slipcover that we used.

Instead of spending anywhere from $800-$1600 we were able to get a beautiful, high quality sofa for $150 ($100 for the couch + $63 for the slipcover + 12 for the extra fabric - $25 that we got for the old couch on Craigslist).  As a bonus, our sofa is now washable because it's slipcovered.

Obviously, we don't want our cat to claw this sofa too.  We have done a lot of research and are implementing some anti-scratching strategies.  However, even if he does claw this sofa I'll feel a lot better than if we had dropped $1000 on it!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How to Win Friends and Influence People: Chapter 2

Principle 2: Give honest and sincere appreciation.

"Sigmund Freud said that everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great."

In the first part of chapter 2 Carnegie reminds us of the importance of the ego in personal communications.  Each person around us is trying his hardest to feel that he has done something of importance.  Some people have huge aspirations and others have more modest ones, but ultimately we are all seeking that confirmation.

For this reason, we should be careful when we interact with others.  We should let people know that they're doing a good job, and we should be sincere about it.

At the end of the chapter, Carnegie quotes Emerson saying, "Every man I meet is my superior in some way."  Imagine if we all lived this example, if we embraced the great lessons that every single person in our lives has to teach us.

Here's my challenge to you and me: the next time you are working with someone who you really don't like, reflect on what that person has to teach you.  When it's appropriate show them your appreciation, sincerely.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Do You Need From Your Job?

I am currently reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, which explains Gladwell's theory of how people become extremely successful (think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, etc.). The crux of Gladwell's theory is people must be innately talented to be highly successful, but they must also have the good fortune of a certain set of circumstances that will enable them to capitalize on their skills.  The book is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.

However, this post is about something that I read last night.  Gladwell says in the book:

"Those three things--autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward--are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.  It is not how much money that we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five.  It's whether our work fulfills us."

I continued to think about this in the context of my side job editing papers.  Overall, I enjoy that job very much.  However, I sometimes find myself exasperated when I am working long hours on a challenging, poorly-written edit just to make the same amount of money as I would on a quick, engaging, well-written edit.  The reward does not always match the effort.

On the other hand, my editing job is sufficiently complex and gives me complete autonomy to decide when and where I want to work.  Those two factors prevent me from becoming completely exasperated by the lack of sufficient reward that I sometimes experience.

For now, I need to continue this job to make extra money.  Perhaps I can find a way to reward myself for the tough work to help me get through it when I'm frustrated.

Using these three criteria, how does your job measure up?  Are you satisfied with your work?  Is there something else that you need from a job to be happy?  Can you think of ways to give yourself more autonomy or complexity if your job doesn't provide these qualities?  If you are a boss, how can you provide your employees with jobs that have these three characteristics?  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Selling Old Jewelry

This week I did something that I've been putting off for almost a year: I sold my old jewelry.  I don't really wear jewelry, but I was gifted with several pieces that I thought might be worth something.  For months I procrastinated because of my own ignorance about the jewelry and because, for some reason, it felt kind of sleazy.

I had two sterling silver rings, an engagement ring  and two necklaces.  I thought that the silver rings would be pretty much worthless (they were), and that the engagement ring might be too since it was handed down to me from a relative when I was a teenager. As for the necklaces, I was clueless.

After doing some searches on the internet about selling jewelry, I devised my strategy. First I found the names of some local jewelry stores.  I was specifically looking for mom-and-pop places and not the chain stores.  I decided to check out two different jewelry stores and a pawn shop to get quotes with the plan to  sell to the highest bidder.  

The first place that I went to was very helpful.  The saleswoman confirmed that the silver rings were basically worthless.  She was also able to tell me that the engagement ring was not a diamond and that the band wasn't even real gold.  However, she did say that she could consign the two necklaces for me.  She felt that $100 was a good starting price for both and that the store would split the cost with me 50/50.  I was pleasantly surprised with that offer, but was interested to see what else I could get.  

I decided that another jewelry store would probably have a comparable price and that maybe I should check with the pawn shop next. There, I was offered $51 for the two necklaces together, but I declined.  At this point I was tired and over it, so I headed back to the first store and agreed to consign with them.  I probably should have checked one more store, but I am content with the decision that I made.  

All in all, the process was not that much of a hassle.  It did make me feel a little uncomfortable, but if I make some money from the necklaces it will have been well-worth the awkwardness.  I"ll keep you posted if the necklaces sell.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Student Loan Update: Paying Off Interest

You probably have noticed that I borrowed a lot more money during my last year of medical school than in all of the other years.  I knew that I would have some pretty significant expenses this year (including residency application fees, traveling across the country for residency interviews, and potentially paying for a big move). I also received less scholarship and grant money this year.

I had a pretty sizable amount of money left over, so I paid off $7,314 of student loan interest this week.  By paying this off now I will prevent this interest from being capitalized when my repayment period starts in six months.  If I had been really smart, I would have done this every year so that I wouldn't have had to pay so much at once.

The unsubsidized loans will continue to accrue interest over the next six months, but my subsidized loans will be interest free until then.  Even though I have a six-month grace period, I am going to start making payments on the unsubsidized loans with my first paycheck in July.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How to Win Friends and Influence People: Chapter 1

I recently picked up the old classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie at the library.  I thought that it would be good to read before I start my job since I will be interacting with all kinds of people in various roles.  I decided to blog about the book as I read to reflect on the book a little more.

Chapter 1: "If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive"
Principle 1: Don't criticize, condemn, or complain

This chapter starts with a look at human nature.  We all like to believe that we are good people, and Carnegie explains that even career criminals like Al Capone believe that the things they do are well-intentioned.  Ultimately we do all that we can to preserve our pride, even if it means overlooking the mounds of evidence that show us that we have made a mistake.

Obviously because of this pride, we do not like to be criticized, especially in a way that ridicules us.  I can think of several times where I was publicly humiliated by someone.  Even if that person was correct in his criticism, the manner by which I was called out made me overlook my error and only feel resentment towards him.

Carnegie says, “Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve?  Good!  I am all in favor of it.  But why not begin on yourself?  From a purely selfish standpoint, that is a lot more profitable than trying to improve others-yes, and a lot less dangerous.”

Withholding criticism is a challenge for me, especially with the people that I am closest to (my husband, family, and closest friends).  Most often, the things that I criticize others for are weaknesses of my own.  For example, I will criticize my husband for making a mess, but I am just as often making messes.

In the hospital I will be working with nursing and ancillary staff, my resident colleagues (in my own department and in other departments), and my attendings.  Under stress, it will be very easy to be critical of my coworkers.  It will be harder, but more productive, to be critical of myself and improve my own actions.

As I read this, I thought about giving feedback.  In many workplaces, giving and receiving feedback is an important tool used to improve the overall functions of the organization.  I will be receiving feedback from lots of different sources, and I will also be expected to give feedback.  How can I give useful feedback that is not critical?  I think that providing feedback about specific actions and expectations is helpful.  It is also important to set somebody up to succeed the next time if they have not met your expectations initially.

What do you think?  Do you have any advice for giving and/or receiving feedback?