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Temporary Insanities …

Those moments when your breath and your brain compete for your attention …

Those moments when what was, what is, and what you hoped would be laugh at your silly attempts to control them …

Those moments when you’re awake enough to realize there’s nothing you can do to stop the plans Life has in store for you.

Those moments when you thank Whatever You Believe In for introducing you to this moment …

Those moments when you pray that, no matter how painful, you are given more of these moments …

That’s the moment when the only thing left to do is get on your knees and give thanks.

I want more of these moments …

Do you?

 

 

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Master Fail! Why Academia is Responsible for the Dumbing Down of America

pile of books

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Wow.  I’m sorry this happened.  Academia has to follow the states’ accreditation and they can’t seem to get their head out of their ass.”

This was the response I got from a friend after I shared with her an e-mail I received from the head of the department at the university where I taught “Introduction to Broadcast Journalism” this past semester.

My friend is a professor — one who, for obvious reasons, shall remain anonymous.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled: My kids call me Professor. In it, I described how, although I do everything professors do — create a syllabus, write lesson plans, create and grade exams, keep up with emails, and oh, yes, teach — academia denies me the right to the title, Professor, because I don’t have a Master’s Degree.

And now, after an amazing semester as an Adjunct Instructor at a major university, it seems that academia is denying me the right to teach at all.

At the end of the semester, I sent the head of the dept. in which I teaching an e-mail offering feedback on improving the course and the program, thanking her for the opportunity to teach this past semester, and telling her I was very much looking forward to the Fall term.

“Thanks for the feedback and your great work with our students. I ran into some credentialing issues with HR because you do not have a master’s degree. Do you have any plans to work on one?” she responded.

It seems that thirty plus years of working in broadcast journalism isn’t enough to qualify me to teach a course on the subject.

To be honest, I didn’t take it personally.  Her response was so brief, that it seemed almost apologetic.

I exhaled and thanked the good Lord for protecting me from an industry covered in so much red — red tape, that is — that it makes Valentine’s Day look like its albino bastard child.

“I will not be pursing my Master’s degree,” I responded. “It doesn’t make sense for me to invest time and money to obtain credentials for knowledge I already have.”

I wanted to add: “I find it absurd that the people who teach and grade the courses I would be required to take to obtain my Master’s will most likely be professors who have never stepped foot inside a newsroom, or written anything besides a thesis, analyzing the textbook definition of broadcasting and journalism.”

But realizing that I was targeting the wrong person with my message, a person who herself was the messenger of the ridiculous rules of the powers-that-be who ruled above her — I decided to keep that thought to myself, and use it as inspiration for this article.

I’m a firm believer that the fire of disappointed passion should never be allowed to burn a bridge I may want to cross in the future.

But I also believe that quenching that fire with an ocean of indifference, is equivalent to death by drowning.

I would love to teach again.  However, I refuse to let my experience in academia during the past six months remain silent, especially since that experience affects the very students that “education” in America claims to serve.

My apologies to the teachers and professors who work their asses off to pursue their passion, to those who have the necessary letters next to their names to be welcomed into the exclusive world of “higher education,” yet don’t get the credit, recognition, or salaries they deserve.  My respect for you is greater than it’s ever been.  Contrary to George Bernard Shaw’s popular quote, sometimes those who can also choose to teach.

As my strongest evidence that this is not an angry attack — or revenge — on an industry that rejected me, but a disclosure of what is wrong with that industry, I offer this:

My mother is a teacher by profession. She’s one of those people with a string of letters next to her name.  You can call her Dr. Besteni-Castellanos.

As for academia and the powers that rule it … SHAME ON YOU!

Shame on you for cheating students out of the right to an education from those who have spent their lives working in the industries those students are seeking to enter.

There are exceptions, of course.  I want my doctors and lawyers to have formal education and lots and lots of letters next to their names. The thought of allowing people with only life experience into these professions is frightening.

But when it comes to journalism, or any other creative career, if given the choice between a professor with formal education and no field training, or a person without post-graduate education who has spent her life working in that career, my choice is obvious.

To deny me, or any other person, the ability to share our knowledge and experience, simply because we haven’t had formal training in a classroom is like erasing Abraham Lincoln from the history books because he had no formal schooling whatsoever!

I do have a Bachelor’s Degree.  But I earned my Master’s at the University of Life known as a Newsroom.  Nearly 35 years later, I refuse to play by the rules of an institution that doesn’t recognize the value of what I have to offer.

“What about credit for life experience?” you ask.

Well, I asked that too.  And the answer is that they would happily consider life experience for half the credits I would need to obtain my Master’s Degree.  However, in order for those credits to be applied towards my degree, I would have to pay for them.

Bottom line: I would be paying for the experience I had spent my career obtaining.

Um, no thank you.

My mom, Dr. Besteni-Castellanos, didn’t raise a fool.  Neither did my dad, Dr. Felipe Besteni-Socvi, for that matter. (I know, compared to my parents, I’m a slacker.)

And so, I’m moving on.  Knowing that another door will open.

As my anonymous professor friend added to the quote that began this article …

“Academia is in a world of its own and will be swallowed by a black hole one day!”

I refuse to tumble into that black hole.

In closing, I would like to thank the students who allowed me to share my knowledge and experience with them this past semester, and taught me more than any book or school could ever teach me.

It was truly an honor watching your eyes shine during those “Aha! moments,” when the light of understanding illuminated concepts that you had been struggling to grasp. I can only hope and pray that I played even a small part in that.

My heart will forever carry the lessons that you taught me, and I will use them as inspiration to continue teaching beyond the confines of academia’s classrooms.

As always, I welcome your comments and rebuttals.

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So Long, News Alerts

Push Alert

We interrupt your life to bring you … stuff that shouldn’t interrupt your life.

This morning I did something that was so simple, so painless, so easy to do, I nearly dropped my iPhone into the toilet after doing it.

It was something that just a few months ago was the lifeline to my job and career.  But now, it was just plain distracting and annoying.

The crying sound of wolves had gotten too much for this journalist-turned-layperson-turned-picky-consumer-of-news.

And so, I went into every news app I had previously downloaded into my iPhone, and opted myself out of their news alerts.

#SweetFreedom

My initial choice had been to fling my iPhone into the alligator-friendly lake behind my house, but I feared for the gators’ well-being should one swallow my phone whole and have to suffer through news alert after news alert.  It just seemed cruel.

The knee-jerk reaction to reach for my phone every time I heard a ding, indicating that something more important than whatever I was doing was happening, had started to wear thin on me.

Frankly, I was tired of hearing that sound every time “news broke,” which was pretty much all the time.  Except 99.9% of the time it wasn’t really news that demanded my immediate attention, and my life could go on without being affected by it at all.

For example, just because someone who had been on the run from police in Miami for 5 years had been caught in Georgia was not that big a deal.  And yet, these were the types of alerts the local news stations in South Florida were sending out.

Most of the time, I would read the alert and think … I don’t care. This doesn’t matter.

If I was with another person, I would ask if it mattered to them and they would give me a look that said … “Barb, why do you think I unsubscribed from the alerts you used to send out when you were working in news?”

Furthermore,  because of the number of characters to which news alerts are limited, what I saw on the screen was either incomplete, confusing, or made no sense at all. (See example at the top of this article.)

You might think this is a ploy to make you click through to the story.  (Tease readers with a weird or incomplete headline so they will have to open the article to find out what it’s about.) But that’s not the case.

Contrary what someone who owns a large building overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach County might tell you, news editors don’t conspire to trick readers or mislead their audiences. (OK, maybe some do, but this is the exception, not the rule.)

In the majority of cases, bad news alerts are simply the frantic writing of a digital editor rushing to be first to send out the alert, before committing the mortal sin of allowing a competing news organization to beat them to it.

Thursday afternoon, one of the local television stations in South Florida sent out three news alerts within a 5-minute interval.  I’d had enough.  I made a pact with myself to get my life and my priorities back in order.

I accepted that if Armaggedon was imminent, a phone call from my mom would let me know faster than any news alert ever could.  And if a nuclear bomb was heading my way, I’d rather not know.  Dying on impact was a much better option.

Yet for someone who had spent the better part of the last few years working as a digital news journalist — sending out news alerts and encouraging others to subscribe to them — I was amazed at how easy it was for me to let them go.

I’ve been away from a traditional newsroom for nearly seven months now.  Seeing news from the receiving end of the smart phone screen has shown me how much of what newsrooms call news really isn’t.

Those of you who follow my blog and articles know how passionate I am about journalism.  And although I’ve been hesitant to criticize those who I know from experience work their butts off to bring you the news each day, I also feel it’s my responsibility — my purpose — to do everything I can to keep the profession which I love from continuing its plunge into obsolescence.

My fellow journalists, please stop the madness!

Please stop sending out news alerts every time someone in the newsroom stands up and starts flailing their arms uncontrollably because “news” is breaking.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Ask yourself:

“If I didn’t work in a newsroom, would this alert matter to me?”

I know the challenges you face.  Your boss thinks it matters.  And so you pick your battles and comply with his or her definition of news.

But unless you’re courageous enough to “just say no” to news alert nonsense, our industry will continue to decline into the frenzy of fake news in which it currently finds itself.

Be responsible. Take a risk. For crying out loud, be a journalist.

Treat news alerts with the same caution that the networks use to break into programming with Special Reports.

It begins with you.

Your audience has already figured out the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.  It’s time you did too.

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My kids call me professor

Nova Southeastern University, Business School

In my sophomore year at Brooklyn College, I had an instructor named Peter Pitzele who always got a kick out of being called “professor.”

Peter guided me through twelve weeks of Ancient History and Philosophy, and from the moment he entered the classroom on the first day of the semester, I knew he was different.

Decades later, I can clearly picture his Ronald McDonald-style shock of salt and pepper hair and the faded jeans, poncho and sandals he wore on a daily basis. It was the perfect attire for the man who wore his heart and soul on his sleeve and shared so much of himself with his students every day.

He seemed like a character right out of the ancient texts we were studying. But his uniqueness went beyond his physical appearance. It wasn’t until years later, when popular culture coined the phrase ‘live with passion,’ that I was able to define what Peter did every day.

He loved teaching. He loved his students. He was a man with a mission to make a difference. And through his passion for his work, he shared his vision and inspired his students to seek and pursue their own passions.

I never saw Peter again after I left Brooklyn College. But he has been in my thoughts often throughout the years.

He was one of the greatest influences during my college days, and continues to be so … especially now.

Peter always laughed when we called him Professor Pitzele.

“I’m not a professor,” he would say. “I’m just an instructor.”

I never understood what that meant.  After all, “Professor” was what you were supposed to call your college teachers.  Or so I thought.

In January of this year, I began teaching Introduction to Broadcast Journalism at Nova Southeastern University.

And although I do everything that all the other instructors do — create a syllabus, write lesson plans, create and grade exams, keep up with emails, and oh, yes, teach — academia denies me the right to be called professor.

That’s because I don’t have enough letters after my name.  And at the time, Peter didn’t either.

When I graduated college, I decided that going to work in the industry that I passionately wanted to be a part of was a better use of my time than staying in school and getting a Master’s Degree.

I had a job in television news before I even completed my Bachelor’s Degree.  Why in the world should I get a Master’s?

And so today, even though I have more that 30 years experience in the industry about which I teach my students, technically, I’m not a professor.

Apparently my experience doesn’t count, because I didn’t get it from a textbook.

But my students, my “kids,” don’t seem to care.

They call me “professor” and I get a kick out of it just as much as Peter did.  You see, just like Peter …

I love teaching. I love my students. I’m on a mission to make a difference. And through my passion for teaching, I hope to share my vision and inspire my students to seek and pursue their own passions.

While doing a little bit of research for this article, I Googled Peter just to see what he had been up to all these years.  And I had to smile when I read that he had not only received his Master’s degree, but he had also gone on to receive his Ph.D from Harvard.

He is officially a professor.  But in my heart, he always was.

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“I want it to count …”

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“You are not defined by your past.  You are prepared by your past.” — Joel Osteen

I was having lunch with a friend yesterday, when our conversation turned to what we “do for a living” and what we hope to accomplish through it.

Having been laid off a few months ago has given me the opportunity to share meals with many friends and former co-workers, some who have been set free by their former employers, others who are still “gainfully employed.”

This particular friend still very much had “a job,” yet I could sense a certain something every time we spoke about our past, present and our yet-to-be-revealed future in the business world.

“I don’t want to do just anything,” she said.  “I want it to count.”

One of my greatest temptations when I was laid off was to avoid jumping back to work in the industry I’ve called home for most of my career.  I have been a journalist since the tender age of 7, when I tore out sheets from a loose leaf binder, wrote a few sentences in large letters (headlines), scribbled some words (articles), drew a couple of stick figures (photos), and called it a newspaper.

My Aunt Cary bought a copy for 10 cents.  I was not only a journalist, I was a marketer!

Journalism is in my DNA.  Words flow through me to feed my soul as much as I hope they feed the souls of those who read them.  I have a minor in English.  I am that annoying person who will correct your grammar during dinner or happy hour, without even realizing I’m doing it.

But after a long and satisfying career as a television news journalist, something felt a bit off.  My love and passion for journalism had not wavered.  But the daily routine of finding new and interesting ways to cover the same stories day in and day out lacked purpose.  Quite frankly, I no longer had the desire to find the answer to questions like “How are we going to make crime relevant so people care about those stories?”

I already knew the answer.  We can’t.  Because they don’t.

It just didn’t seem to count anymore.

That’s why having  been given wings to fly was very refreshing. But in all honesty, a bit unsettling.

The hardest part about “not working” is that you’re suddenly handed the blank canvas you’ve always longed for, and you have absolutely no idea what to paint on it.

Scary?  You bet.

Maybe you find yourself in the same situation.  Maybe your employer gave you your wings to fly.  And maybe you’ve been doing everything you thought you should do to get your next “job” but the Universe won’t cut you a break.

So after hitting a few dead ends and not having anything you put out there come to fruition, you’re left with no choice but to let go.  Surrender and trust that the seeds you’ve planted in the past need time to settle into the soil before they bloom into the person you were meant to be, and the purpose you were put here to fulfill.

In the meantime, relax.  Do the things you wanted to do but never had the chance to do when you “had a job.”  You never know when a conversation … sometimes with a complete stranger … will lead to your next opportunity.

One day the opportunity to make a difference will come your way.  That opportunity may be in the form of several smaller opportunities strung together to give you the sense of purpose you’ve been craving …  A chance to break out of the routine which seemed so comfortable but was slowly sucking the life out of you.  (OK, maybe that’s a bit drastic, but I’ve never been one to be shy about getting straight to the point.)

And that day you’ll realize that the Universe was smarter than you all along.  And you’ll thank Her for not allowing you to settle for anything less than making it count.

My friends … go out there and do what you can’t and make it count.  I hope this little video inspires you to do so.

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I won’t be going to Europe this year …

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… or anywhere exotic … or expensive … or requiring a passport … or airline connection … or any of the trappings I once considered myself so fortunate to be a part of.

My travel bucket list — at least for now — will have to wait until the Universe thinks I’ve learned the lessons She is trying to teach me by keeping me grounded.

Because being temporarily grounded may be frustrating, but it guarantees the safest passage to the final destination She planned when She deposited me where I find myself at this very moment.

You don’t have to travel far from home to embark on your greatest journey.  But that journey is the most difficult one of all — one most of us are too fearful to take …

A journey within. A journey that begins each time we take a breath.  The journey into the self.

Eighteen months ago, my life, my travels, and my dreams were forever changed.

Until then, I lived an amazing life, living the dreams Destiny had planned for my life partner and me.

Those dreams included trips to countries around the world that formed the foundation of memories that solidified our relationship. No destination was too close or too far.  We were always grateful for the ability to live the dream, realizing how blessed we were.  And we never took anything for granted.

But then, Destiny sent us a ticket to a journey so rough, the turbulence was unlike anything we had ever experienced.

First, my dad died.   Then our dog died.  Then we lost even more loved ones on both sides of our family.  Then my denial that my almost 90-year-old mom was slowing down hit me in the face so hard I began a downward spiral into self sabotage.

But despite the challenges, something deep down inside never changed.

Then I lost my job.

With that came The Shift.

I started focusing not on what I had lost, but on what I could never lose.

And despite my futile attempts to go back to the place I once felt so comfortable in, Destiny wouldn’t let me move forward until I came to terms with reality, and the peace that giving in to that reality would offer.

I’m a dreamer. Destiny is the realist who keeps me grounded.

It’s both a blessing and a curse.  But pretending reality doesn’t exist won’t exorcise the demons we refuse to face.

Denial is the first step to going nowhere.  And so, accepting the curse of reality as a blessing in disguise is the only choice to moving forward.

Change is the greatest catalyst to magic.

Magic …

… like paying attention to the “accidents” and “coincidences” that are arrows pointing us in the direction we’re meant to go.

I’ll be 59 soon.  (Holy bat poop Batman! How did that happen?)

An age that once seemed so old is now a springboard to possibilities so endless they make me giddy.

I choose to move forward, and to have faith that the Invisible Arms that have always been there to catch me will catch me again.

My friends, planning a trip abroad is easy.

But hotel suggestions in the depths of your soul aren’t found on Booking.com.  No airline is safe enough to fly there.  And the baggage you try to bring with you will never make it past security.

I won’t be going to Europe this year.

That’s because I’ll be continuing my journey to a destination I’ve been postponing far too long …

A journey to my purpose … my peace.

Will you come with me?

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I lost my job, but I don’t have cooties and it’s not contagious!

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A few months ago I received the proverbial pink slip from a company within the business I’ve called “home” for my entire career.

It’s time for me to come out of the closet about it.

Not only for my sake, but for the sake of the hundreds of people who lose their jobs every day and are too embarrassed to talk about it.

Call it what you want … being laid off, downsized, eliminated, fired.  It doesn’t matter.  The bottom line is, one day I had a job and the next day I didn’t.

Did it suck?  Of course it did.  But wailing, gnashing my teeth and inviting friends over for a pity party were never my style.  And wallowing in self pity because I no longer had to get dressed come Monday morning seemed … well, uncool.

So, here comes full disclosure.  Any similarities to people working or unemployed is purely intentional.

I’m not angry or resentful.  In fact, I’m quite the opposite.  It’s taken a few weeks for me to get to this place of peace, but it’s that very peace that has given me the courage to write publicly about it.

That, and the fact that a couple of weeks ago a 33-year-old former colleague passed away.  He was a talented, courageous man who once took the risk to come out of his own closet and publish it to a national audience.

Then, just a few hours ago, I attended the wake and burial of a neighbor who was closer to me than some of my family members.  He was just two years older than me.

Suddenly, writing about losing my job no longer seemed scary.  In the big scheme of things, it was no big deal.

Emancipation Day

First of all, not having a job is not the end of the world.  In fact, if truth be told, the day I was “let go” felt like an emancipation.

I love my life’s work and career.  But I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s a Higher Power to whom I’ve entrusted my purpose.  And if She thought it was time to move on, then who was I to question Her.

Three days after Emancipation Day — my first Monday where I had nowhere to go, or any reason to rush to take a shower — my new reality began.

It didn’t take long to realize that there’s a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” philosophy around people who lose their jobs.  (There’s that closet thing again.)

For the most part, people ignored me. Even on social media, those who knew I had lost my job pretended it didn’t happen.  I received three messages from former colleagues, saying they were sad they hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye.  A few others had wished me well as I walked out of the building that Friday a few months ago — in the nanosecond it took for the news to spread like wildfire.  Other than that … nothing.

Being unemployed isn’t contagious, but some people treat you like it is.  It’s as if by staying away from you, they won’t catch your cooties.

So, I started to call a few close friends and former colleagues to tell them what had happened.

“I’m so sorry!”was the most common response.

“Don’t be,” I’d say. “The door to possibilities just swung wide open for me.”

Stop talking about it like it was some cruel injustice.  It happened.  Move on.

At worst, it was strictly a business decision.  At best a Universal gift pushing me in the direction of a higher calling.  Not that I hadn’t been on purpose during my career. It’s just that the groundwork had been laid for the greater accomplishments for which I was created.

I was very much alive.  Condolences weren’t necessary.

Finally, there were those who insisted on inviting me to happy hour to keep me up to date on the latest drama for your mama at my former workplace.  Many complained about how unhappy they were.

“OMG, stop whining and quit,” I would tell them.  It seemed much more civil than throwing the dirty martini with three olives in front of them in their face.

“Well, it’s easier to find a new job when you have a job,” was the most common response.

Translation: I get a pay check.

“OK, then,” I  would think.  “If I have to listen to your whine, then you get to pay for my wine.”

And so it goes.

Cootie Lessons

It’s been four months since my job left me.  I’ve learned quite a few things since then.  Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the lessons … lessons I hope will guide you, no matter on which side of the unemployment line you stand.

Lesson 1: Be grateful for everything you have and everything you haven’t lost.  Most of all be grateful for the time you’ve been given to do the things you’ve been too busy to do.  It’s those things that will guide you to the next chapter in your life.

Lesson 2: Be humble. A week after Emancipation Day, I attended my 40th High School reunion.  It was the place where I had meant to brag about what I had done for the past 40 years.  Suddenly I couldn’t do that.  Yet the overwhelming support I received when I shared what had happened to me made me realize that what I did for a living had no impact whatsoever on what my true friends thought of me.  My favorite comment:  “If I were laid off, I could do so many of the things I feel too trapped to do right now!”  Think about it.  Why wait to get untrapped?  What guarantee do you have that you’ll ever get to do those things.

Lesson 3: Trust … in a Higher Power, in yourself, in your family, in the Unknown, in the moments that put a smile on your face.  Know that letting go and getting out of the way of destiny will bring you one step closer to the fulfillment you seek.  Notice I didn’t say the job you seek.  Jobs aren’t necessarily fulfilling.

Lesson 4: Be patient. There’s no better time to trust the Force that’s been guiding you since birth than when you have no other choice but to do so.

Lesson 5: Practice being positive around those who are negative.  Trust me, there will be plenty of negativity around.  Get that picture of yourself living under the Interstate and eating cat food out of your head.  Close your eyes. Envision a dirty martini with three olives in it. Then see yourself throwing it in the face of the doom and gloomers.

Lesson 6: Don’t Settle.  It’s easy to take the first job you’re offered.  Don’t do it.  Don’t let fear trap you back into what you left behind.

Lesson 7: Focus. Get clear on what you don’t want so you can focus on what you do want.

Lesson 8: Persevere in finding your next opportunity, but remember to ride your bike, write your novel, have lunch with people you’ve been meaning to have lunch with, play your guitar, walk the dog in your pajamas, go to the naked beach and check in on Facebook.  Most of all, waste time doing the things you love. Because the things the world tells you are important really aren’t.

Lesson 9: Stop treating yourself like you’re contagious.  The minute I opened up to people and let my guard down, opportunities  began to open up for me.  No one can help you if you don’t ask for help.

Lesson 10: Pay your positive attitude forward to those who are not quite as positive about their situation as you are.  It’s in giving that we receive.

Remember, you’re not unemployed.  You’re working to put fear aside so the next chapter of your life can begin.

And that, my friends, doesn’t suck so bad.

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