“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
–Norman Vincent Peale
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
It has been awhile since I wrote on the topic of punctuation. As we’re full swing into the new school year, this is about the time I teach my students about the dreaded Apostrophe.
Apostrophes seem to give people plenty of problems. At least that’s what I discern from the amount of incorrect apostrophe usage making me cringe. The apostrophe problem seems to be most prevalent in signage and in menus (in addition to early-semester writing assignments). If you ever come across a menu that has a correction mark in it, it was probably me.
Why is it one of the smallest punctuation signs seems to give us so much grief?
When it comes to incorrect apostrophe use, there are essentially two main offenses occurring:
1. Apostrophes are incorrectly used and make plurals possessive; or
2. Apostrophes are not used and turn what should be a possessive into a plural.
For possession, remember two simple rules (and a few exceptions).
Rule #1—If the possessive noun is singular, add ’s.
Right: My sister’s occupation is exciting and perilous.
Wrong: My sisters occupation is exciting and perilous.
Rule #2—If the possessive noun is plural, add s’.
Right: The sisters’ gift to their parents was extravagant.
Wrong: The sisters gift to their parents was extravagant.
The biggest offender = it’s. Remember that it’s always means it is. (It’s is never considered a possessive.)
Maybe I could get a job with the police.
Possession is nine tenths of the law so therefore
I am nine tenths of the law. Sort of.
– Sad Apostrophe
In another post I’ll cover when and how to use apostrophes in contractions. But until then, you can read examples of pathetic apostrophes here: http://www.apostrophecatastrophes.com/
Mentoring can make a significant difference in your personal life and professional career. Being a mentor is not an easy task; it’s a significant role in helping someone else. However, mentoring is a two-way street: the mentor is typically one to provide guidance and support while the mentee needs to commit and follow-through. In seeking a mentor, I look for someone who is willing to give himself/herself to me, to show strengths and weaknesses, and to be brutally honest when needed. I look for a mentor who has “been there, done that” and can show me the ropes. I’ve learned mentors are not always found in my field or discipline, but may be a veteran of the industry or company.
What do you do if a mentor is not available? And I don’t mean that in an “I’m so smart and everyone else here is dumb so they’ll never teach me anything” way. Maybe the company is are small or remote and a mentor is not available.
I say that’s crazy talk. Mentors are everywhere. Sure, maybe the right one isn’t at your company, but he or she is out there. There are countless resources. Through professional associations. At universities or colleges. In alumnae organizations. Finding a mentor takes commitment to stick to the process.
But do not ask strangers. First, he or she will probably say no because they do not know you. Kathy Caprino talks about how to find a great mentor in her Forbes article. She highlights what one should look for in a mentor:
… find great mentors through the inspiring people you’re already interacting and working with now. They need to be people to whom you have already demonstrated your potential – who know how you think, act, communicate and contribute. And they have to like, trust and believe in you already (why else would they help you?). They also need to believe with absolutely certainty that you’ll put to great use all their input and feedback
And if you say, “I don’t know anyone like that” then that’s probably why it’s more important than ever to find a mentor. You have in it you. Expand your horizons, join a few groups and start meeting people. Put your best foot forward because even in the art of trying, you may already be improving yourself.
How many times have you left a business meeting and afterwards realized you remembered very few details? What color was the receptionist’s shirt? What was the first piece of artwork you passed in the hallway? Was your client left- or right-handed? Is any of this relevant?
My eighth grade teacher, Miss Slottke, did an observation exercise with the class. She instructed one girl to stand up and face the front of the room. Then, Miss Slottke stood a few feet behind the girl and asked her to describe the teacher’s outfit. The girl was stumped. She knew the teacher wore a skirt—sort of a gimme because Miss Slottke never wore pants—but couldn’t recall the color or anything else. I was extremely relieved I hadn’t been called upon. I had to study the woman’s attire myself. I can still remember her outfit to this day: a maroon wool skirt, a pink blouse, a navy cardigan and sensible black pumps.
Observation is a skill I am constantly attempting to engage. There are plenty of sites and speakers who will provide a list of techniques to increase your memory, but I don’t need to remember details forever. My head’s already full of a lot of useless information. I just want to be more present in the moment. Maybe it’s all the recent incarnations of Sherlock Holmes on television that’s inspired me to open my eyes and see things.
Regardless of the inspiration, I pay attention. While I don’t remember everything, I do try to retain some of the key items. Sometimes it’s important to help you understand the person or company you are meeting. When I walk into a room, I glance around quickly, taking note. This was helpful during the semester – I could gauge the mood of my students by their body language as they slid into their seats, and adjust the tone of the class accordingly.
At my friend’s condo, there is a sign in the elevator identifying the different parking levels by insects. It’s not a bad association idea, but I’m befuddled by the “spider” option among all the other lovelier options of bumblebees and hummingbirds. Snails are also questionable, but spiders rate higher on my creepy pests list. I wish whoever designed the sign had chosen a dragonfly or caterpillar.
How often do you notice signs, details, or other oddities in a day? And what you do think when something does stick with you – do you look for more?
Twenty years ago I thought I was a great writer. I graduated with a degree in English and minors in professional communications and business management. I headed out to the work force, confident in my skills and abilities. My resume looked great – solid content, no typos and consistent formatting. I was ready to make my impact and take the world one key stroke at a time.
It didn’t really work out that way. Not exactly. I was a decent writer and I landed a good position in marketing, but I didn’t have the experience needed to make me a great writer. Through the years, I sought out positions and companies to help me get there.
For awhile I worked in the middle of a renowned PR department at a national agency. I found out quickly my writing abilities had a lot of room for improvement. I accepted edits, advice, criticism and lessons. I wrote and rewrote. I edited and then edited some more. I worked with people who really were good writers and by being in the same vicinity and working on projects together, my skills developed.
All of the critiques came with different intentions. Not every co-worker or manager is a great mentor, but ultimately the feedback and interaction did make my writing better than it had been. At the end of the day, the goal is to produce the best work for my client. I wasn’t writing for myself, but rather to represent someone or something.
I have worn off the a, s, d, e, n, and i letters on several keyboards.
I learned that as a writer or communicator or marketer, I needed thick skin. Never is there 100% consensus that a document or a speech or an advertisement is the best thing since the padded kneeler. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and some things just don’t resonate with everyone. I may get 98% of the people to like it, but it’s that 2% who keep me grounded and in pursuit of a higher quality work product. With my writing, if I can make the majority of the audience understand, appreciate and accept the idea, then I’m on the right path. It’s taken a lot of time and patience to get to this point, and I’m not done yet.
One of the challenges in producing great work is there is no guarantee you’ll knock it out of the park every time. Some methods are tried and true, and some equations are consistently winners but, especially in marketing and communications, factors are always changing. Audience needs, perceptions, social impacts, etc., continue to influence and alter end products. As the creator of these materials, it’s up to me to understand, keep aware and continually adapt. Perhaps one day my biggest critic (me) will step back and say, “You are the most wonderful writer I have ever met.” Until then, I put my head down, endure the bumps and bruises, and deliver work that is best for the client, their audience and target messaging.