Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Collector

I sold my Smashing Pumpkins. You heard me right. This early-90’s, grunge-loving, 32-year-old music fan sold his Smashing Pumpkins, and I don’t even know for how much. I probably didn't get $2 for it.

This is no small change in direction for me. In the past, I've had a CD collection that fluctuated in number between 200 and 300. It might have been larger, but with the kind of college friends and acquaintances I had, the collection tended to shrink against my will. 

The difference now is that I want that collection to shrink. I want to sell, dump and give away. If I can't remember the last time I listened to an album, I don't want it around, and that is why 75 of my previously-precious CDs were recently converted to $90 in my pocket. 

As a collector, this is sacrilege. The collector always wants more. The collector finds comfort in thinking any item in the collection is accessible years or decades later, whether it will be or not. The collector finds peace in owning and having, storing and organizing. The collector becomes a connoisseur while the collection grows. 

And this isn't (completely) about showing off. Collectors loves to impress at parties, but those who are serious get off on admiring their collections in private. I was like that. I loved the fact that I had more CDs than my friends. I was more in the know. I had better taste in music. I liked to think I could listen to Smashing Pumpkins 20 years from the day I bought it, and that was appealing to me. 

Now, I couldn't care less. Time spent with others is now rarely time spent talking about music. Rolling Stone is no longer delivered to my house, and I rarely listen to the radio for music (even The Current gets only about 5 minutes of my time a day). It’s not a status thing for me anymore – it isn't socially important to like one band or another, or to like music my friends like. I’m only interested in listening as an enjoyable experience. That’s it. I’m totally in a vacuum, totally immune from outside influence. There is no “too popular,” or “overplayed.” If a song gets overplayed, it’s because I've kept it in the CD player too long. If I like the music, for whatever reason, that’s all that matters. 

I trace my new behavior back to the days when my Dad began building his monstrous VHS collection, which began the day he first visited Sam’s Club. He had never been a collector as far as I knew, unlike me, but there was something about those cheap movies on cassette that he could never pass up. 

My Dad must have over 500 movies now. 500! As a young movie buff, I loved it. But I remember when we were looking for something to watch on shelf after shelf of tapes, we spent a lot of time staring, trying to get excited about something we’d already seen. Even with all those movies, there really was NOTHING TO WATCH. 

I tried to think about how big the collection would have to be for us not to feel like that – was it 1000? – 2000? Eventually I realized it wouldn't matter. It would never be enough. Bruce Springsteen sang about “57 channels and nothing on.” He was right. It’s never enough. 

So maybe I realized it early on with movies, and it just hit me with music. It’s not the destination of having that perfect collection, it’s the journey of discovering music. No more looking back for me, only forward. I’ll listen to new things, develop my taste, and move on. I want to feel the rush of loving a new song more than I want to reminisce with something familiar. 

Maybe I’m just getting older, shifting into a new stage, and this is just an indicator of a new outlook. Maybe I’m having an early mid-life crisis. Maybe it’s about a lack of time, or lack of shelf-space. Maybe it’s about trying to break free from the material world. Maybe I just needed change for parking on a particular day. 

Whatever it is, I’m starting to get comfortable with the new philosophy. I’m now keeping an “active collection” of 75 CDs at any given time. When a new one comes in, the least desirable album gets the boot. Faced with tough choices, I will nonetheless travel light and gather no moss. I’m not going to refer to myself as a collector anymore. Now, I’m a recycler.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Personal Brand: Your Job-Hunting Method Du Jour

Looking for a job is a job. As someone in the market, I hear this all the time, and it’s 100 percent true. I get tired just thinking about looking for a job; the effort required in a place like the Twin Cities, among all the other smart, capable people, is backbreaking. Some say the economy is good, but I say it’s a battle out there. Even getting a graduate degree, like I just did, is no guarantee.

Too many companies have downsized too many times, and not only are people who lost their jobs looking for work, employees who stayed and had their responsibilities increased (with no increase in pay) are looking too. Absolutely everyone wants a new job. 

Well, have no fear, job seeker! The top employment authors and employment consultants have assured me that the latest key to job-hunter wealth and never-ending happiness is a Personal Brand. Yes, not just for multinational conglomerates anymore, brands are a way for smart and successful people like you and me to impress those who hire smart and successful people. 

To demonstrate how easy it is, I will create my own brand right on the spot. I am no longer Jay Kelly…I am now the physical manifestation of JK™. The authors and consultants don’t recommend you do this without their advice, so proceed with caution. 

Now that I’m a brand, I don’t feel that much different, but my first instinct is that if I saw someone else using the letters JK, I’d be well within my rights to sue them (Personal Brand Benefit #1 – The Threat of Litigation). 

Before we continue, I want to be clear that having a Personal Brand doesn't mean that you have to do any heavy reading on the concept of brand. I myself read a magazine article and a few short blog postings before writing this for you. Paris Hilton considers herself a brand, and I’m willing to bet she doesn't read at all. 

Even so, maybe we should define personal brands a little bit better first, just to maximize our Personal Brand success. To use the example of Nike, the international sporting goods giant, brand is what we think and feel about Nike, and what Nike does to influence those thoughts and feelings. 

So if we hear that a pair of Nike shoes cost about $1.23 to manufacture, and in response, Nike spends millions of dollars to make some really cool ads, and consequently, we get excited buying Nike shoes for $150/pair, that’s brand (Personal Brand Benefit #2 – Rational Decision Making is Irrelevant). 

So what is the first step to make Personal Branding work for you? Make a list, of course. Make a list of all your friends. Then make a list of the attributes that they could use to describe you. Then make a list of all the attributes that you want your Personal Brand to represent. The attributes I use to describe JK™ are: stylish, intelligent, witty, sarcastic, sassy. 

Do your friends identify you with Personal Brand attributes you chose? No? I want to emphasize that it does not matter. The fact that they didn't choose the right attributes doesn't mean you need to grow, improve or change – it means that you need to buy cooler stuff and hang out with cooler people. 

Personal Brand does have something to do with your personality, but it has more to do with your car and your clothes, your personal computer and your PDA. Buzzwords are good too, especially in job interviews. Definitely use more buzzwords. 

Personal Branding is all about boldly moving forward, not staying stagnant by living in the past (Personal Brand Benefit #3 – Create or Buy Your Own Reality). Yes, your head may hurt. Moving into the future, creating a new reality – Personal Branding can seem so daunting. In truth, it is not. The Internet, my new cooler friends, is the key. 

Your ticket to success will be punched by a personal Web site and/or blog (Personal Brand Benefit #4 – Staking Your Claim in Cyberspace). Most experts will talk about differentiation as the core concept of Personal Brand, but every last one of them also mentions starting a blog, and this is the real key. 

These days, you don’t have to be a Web designer or a writer to be on the Internet, all you need is the overwhelming desire to tell other people about YOU. Don’t worry about your Google rankings. The fact that your blog exists at all is most important, and having the URL on your resume is a real difference maker. 

The new reality in the 21st Century of work is that the experience of having done something is more important than having done it well (Personal Brand Benefit #5 – The Experts Are Those Who Say They’re Experts). You now have all the knowledge you need to go forth and burn your Personal Brand on the world. Make sure and bring the ointment. 

I only hope that your brands can be as successful as JK™, the only brand to blend style, intelligence, and wit with the splash of sarcastic sass we all know and love. If you keep working hard, you’ll get there. If you believe the hype, it’s probably true. 

Disclaimer: This article is the sole property of JK™. No copies or re-creations can be used without express written authorization of JK™ representatives. JK™ cannot be held responsible for actions taken after reading this article that result in personal bankruptcy or social isolation. Thank you for your consumption of JK™ intellectual property.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Your NBA Franchise, About To Blow

There’s a lot going on for the sports fan in the fall. Football, hockey, basketball; it could be a full-time job keeping up with it all as a fan, but before you get too excited, let me remind you what you already know - sports rank pretty low in life’s priorities.

We should be seeking out meaningful conversations with our significant others, getting ourselves some exercise, and especially this fall, we should have been following our county commissioners’ races or researching the independent candidate for city park board (Go, park board candidate, go!).

But conversations aren't meant to have winners and losers, the treadmill is a worthy but boring adversary, and a political horse race is not an actual horse race, no matter how mind-blowing the graphics are on television. The juice of real competition just isn't there.

For some of us, we need a game. I've spent a significant amount of my life either playing or watching basketball, and probably logged more hours on the courts playing pick-up in college than I spent earning my degree. I graduated, so I figure no harm, no foul. But back to low priorities.

I know some people love their pro teams so much they throw batteries at opposing players when they attend games, but these leagues, these teams, and these players are not even close to inspiring that kind of loyalty these days. Save your Duracells, people.

Case in point: Four NBA players recently had an altercation at a night club that ended in someone trying to drive over one of the players, and said player pulling out his gun and firing it in the air. These sorts of things have happened before, and everyone shakes their heads and bemoans the coddled pro athlete, but three weeks and a Time magazine cover later, everything is back to normal.

One little sentence at the end of an article I read about this really got to me though – of the four players involved, three were either carrying guns or had guns in their cars. Let me repeat that. THREE OF FOUR HAD GUNS. These physical specimens, these millionaires, these men who never ever carry their own luggage were carrying guns!

Now, I don’t want to even get into the socio-economic, psycho-social, or geo-political reasons why pro athletes think they need to be armed for a night on the town. I do want to talk about simple math. There are 15 guys on each NBA roster, and 30 NBA teams. That’s 450 guys. If our three of four ratio holds, could 338 of them be packing heat on a regular basis?

It looks like that’s actually happening to some extent. In a recent Star Tribune article, the T-Wolves Mark Madsen said there were quite a few players he knew who had carried guns. This is the NBA, the same league that made the Washington Bullets franchise change their name because it was too violent.

Has it occurred to anybody to work some anti-gun clauses into those multi-million dollar contracts? Many teams won’t let players drive snowmobiles or motorcycles because it would put their investment (the player) at risk. Call me cautious, but isn’t it risky to the league if a player shoots someone?

So, we already knew before that NBA guys like to go out partying, and we now know that many NBA guys possibly carry guns. The club-going public needs to know we’re due for a gun battle of OK Corral proportions at a night club in an NBA town near you. I’m surprised we haven’t seen it already. Party people everywhere have now been warned.

If you’re in an NBA city, know your team’s home schedule. The new season began November 1. On those game nights, those who drink and dance should stay in and find something less dangerous to do, like starting a fight with your sweetie, about politics, while exercising on the treadmill, which is set on SPRINT. Now that’s competitive!