Dataviz

My latest coffee-fueled idea is to redo horrible annual reports by my favorite nonprofits, and then build a consulting business. It’s a little bit silly–as of two weeks ago, I’d barely even made a chart in Excel. And now I somehow know enough to make money at it?

It’s not like I think I know much. But damn, I sure could do better than some of these things I’m seeing.

My boss is a report person. She really really really likes graphs. So I signed up for a data visualization webinar by Ann Emory a couple weeks ago, and just fiddling with a basic bar chart during the webinar, made it look soooo much better. I like it when I can do things well, so I got really excited about it. Then, lucky me, the last few weeks have been really slow at work, so I’ve been putting probably too much time into making a super pretty quarterly report. We’ll see what my boss thinks of it, of course. But I actually brought my work computer home so I could keep working on it over the weekend.

But, you know, I have two weeks experience. There’s no way I could charge people money. (Or could I? Is this imposter syndrome? I know I can do better than some of the annual reports I’m seeing.) Either way, though, more experience is the ticket. So here’s a list of blogs and books I’m going read:

http://www.excelcharts.com/blog/posts/
http://www.storytellingwithdata.com/
http://stephanieevergreen.com/females-in-dataviz/
http://fellinlovewithdata.com/guides/how-to-become-a-data-visualization-expert-a-recipe
http://viz.wtf/ and http://thumbsupviz.com/
http://flowingdata.com/

<em>The Visual Display of Quantitative Information</em> by Edward Tufte
stuff by Stephen Few
The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics by Donna Wong
Design for Information by Isabel Meirelles

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve been really excited about learning something. This is very fun.

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Pulling myself up short

I am so twitchy today. I want to do all these things, but each thing would work better if I do something else first.

Image representing ModCloth as depicted in Cru...

ModCloth, why you so cute? (Image via CrunchBase)

For instance I have a shopping cart full of cute dresses and shoes on ModCloth, but I feel weird about dropping a couple hundred bucks on clothes even though half my work-appropriate clothes have minor tears or don’t quite fit right or don’t work for pumping and nursing. Seriously, I have one pair of pants right now where nothing is wrong with them. But I feel like I should be saving that money, I have so many long term savings goals: retirement, Busy Bee’s college fund, Busy Bee’s preschool fund (I’m only half joking), the what-if-the-water-heater-and-the-roof-break-in-the-same-week emergency fund, an MBA for me, Paranoid Husband starting a massage therapy business someday, building a raised bed garden next year (garden soil is expensive!)… Ugh, it just feels like any way I cut it, I come up short on long term goals and don’t have any left for short term goals like pretty dresses from ModCloth.

So I want to go see a financial planner. I want someone professional to help me figure out how to prioritize among long-term savings goals and get the best bang for my buck in a world of 0.25% savings rates. I’ve told Paranoid Husband that’s what I want for our fourth wedding anniversary this summer. (Also that I want marital counseling for our fifth, not because I think anything will be wrong then, just for fun. What, learning how to communicate better about our sex life sounds like a totally romantic date.) I even know exactly who I want to go to, I found a fee-only financial planner who’s a fellow alumni of my tiny hippie college.

Except it doesn’t really seem like a good time to make an appointment. Our car is in the shop for the forseeable future after a stupid fender bender, my parents are visiting next week, I’m up for a promotion and raise at work sometime soon but I don’t know exactly when… Shouldn’t I wait until things have calmed down a little? I mean, even two or three weeks from now should be better.

So… I’m just stuck. Twiddling my thumbs.

Actually, now that I think about it, pretty much everything I want to do, at home or at work, is waiting on this stupid raise/promotion. Volunteer recruitment. Program planning. Collateral redesign. Developing a personal/family budget. Looking at preschools for Busy Bee in the fall. Having another baby. Buying some cute dresses already. I’ve been waiting six months now since the promotion was first proposed, and at this point it feels completely out of my control. It could be another three months, or it could be next week.

So… I should just buy the dresses, right?

That awkward moment when…

… you realize the reason your life is difficult is because you’ve been hoarding work in an attempt to make yourself feel more important.

Oops.

It’s been a good week for self-realization. (And even better to have it followed by a three day weekend!) I got a new boss after being without for the last four months, and let me tell you, it might sound fun on paper to not have a boss, but after about half a day of gleefully reading buzzfeed articles instead of working it actually sucks monkey balls. I’ve been struggling with not knowing where to prioritize, not feeling like I could commit to long term projects, and just plain feeling burned out. I really, really like working as part of a team, being able to bounce ideas off other people, catching enthusiasm from other people rather than trying to stare at the wall to motivate myself.

Plus my new boss is awesome. She asks all the right questions, which if I had to pick a single trait for anyone I work with to have, it’d be that all the time. On top of getting some good questions, I made it out of the office to some great trainings on staff/volunteer engagement with Betty Stallings, who is one of the big international gurus of volunteerism. She had some great things to say about delegation, changing language from “my volunteers” to “our volunteers”, and why the volunteer coordinator should be a leader for the organization on involving volunteers in traditionally staff-driven work. None of it new information, exactly, but it came at the right time and I actually heard it for once.

Turns out, after thinking about it, all that stuff I’ve been going home every night and complaining about to my husband? It’d be pretty easy to ask volunteers to do that. Delegation will not make me look like I can’t do my own job. Training and supervising will be worth the time. People besides me can do it correctly, without messing up. Okay, yes, I will have to actually work on major projects instead of filling up my hours with busywork. But I think I can cope.

After a really frustrating four months, life at work is looking up.

Now if I just can get that raise and promotion I was told to expect back in January…

How to have a good death

My job is a little wacky: I talk to dying people on the phone all day long. Sometimes it’s really depressing. Most of the time I deal with it by making really morbid jokes with my coworkers. Sometimes I deal with it by getting philosophical.

The dying people I talk to call my organization because they want to have a good death. I can tell them what their options are, some of the things they might want to plan for. We talk about what they hope never happens to them. I don’t tell them what a good death is, though–that’s a very personal choice, and not my place to tell a client. But I do end up thinking about it. I see a lot of people who die in exactly the way they hoped they wouldn’t, and other people who’s deaths are beautiful, transformational experiences for everyone who was able to witness it. I’m only 28; there’s a lot I don’t know about death and dying. But here’s what I do know, based on what I’ve seen, with the caveat that some of these things are things you can choose, while others sometimes are not.

  1. Accept that you’re going to die. It’s inevitable, folks. We can delay it, but it’s gonna happen. Life is a balancing act between putting off death and preparing for it. If you put too much effort into the first, there’ll be nothing left for the second.
  2. Accept that your health will decline. One of the hardest things for my clients to deal with is adjusting to not being able to do all the things they used to do. Some people have a harder time than others–someone who lives a 15 minute drive from everywhere they routinely go feels tremendously isolated when they can’t drive. Spend some time developing a sense of self beyond what you do. Who are you if you can’t pursue your mountain biking hobby? Who are you if you lose your eyesight and can’t read? I heard from someone the other day who felt that life was worth living as long as they had one big belly laugh every day–that’s the kind of identity I aspire to.
  3. Talk with your doctor(s). Find a doctor who is willing to be honest with you. Be blunt with your doctor, and encourage them to be blunt with you. Doctors are people too–most of them are just as afraid of talking about dying as everyone else. But you need your doctor to let you know when you have a terminal diagnosis. When treatment will help, and when it won’t. When it’s appropriate to enroll in hospice. When it’s not worth putting up with the side effects of whatever medication might help cure, and instead focus on your comfort and on your relationships with your loved ones.
  4. Talk with your loved ones. They’re going to be making medical decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself. Spare them the pain of trying to figure out what you would have wanted. It’s never easy, but it is much easier to say, “Mom told me that she didn’t want to be kept alive by machines when there was no sign of brain activity; turn them off” than to say, “I think Mom wouldn’t have wanted to live this way, I only hope I’m doing the right thing.”
  5. Write down what you talked about. In most places this means having an Advance Directive. Writing down your wishes can mean less fighting between your family, your doctors, or any facility where you’re receiving treatment. It only kicks in when you’re no longer able to speak for yourself. But writing it down is really barely half the point–ideally it’s more of a place to start the conversation than to end it.
  6. Die in a safe, calm place, where you have control. This is rarely a hospital, or anywhere with beeping machines, people who need to check on you on their schedule and not yours. Dying is the one thing people have to do on their own body’s schedule. Maybe your space needs some modifications like a hospital bed, but have familiar sights and sounds and smells around you. Turn up or down the lights as you want to. Be able to eat your favorite meal, even if it’s only one bite.
  7. Die with friends around you. Or die alone. Some of my clients die in the middle of a party, with friends gathered in a circle around their bed singing them out. Some of my clients hang on in a coma until everyone leaves the room. Both are beautiful. My clients’ loved ones frequently tell me the client died like they lived.
  8. Die in hospice care. Hospice is great. Hospice is the best. Hospice will allow you to stay in your home, with less discomfort, longer than any other option. Hospice has resources to support your family. The second your doctor says you’re eligible, sign up for hospice.
  9. Feel satisfied with your life. Even for people whose deaths don’t go the way they hoped, if they’re okay with how they lived their life, it doesn’t matter as much. I don’t expect to be happy when I know I’m dying, but I hope to at least feel equanimity.
  10. Find meaning in death. For a long time I thought the way I’d most prefer to die would be to have a grand piano dropped on my head. Then I wanted to die like Moliere, dropping dead on stage with the audience applauding while playing a hypochondriac . One of my friends tells me I’m confusing awesome deaths with ironic deaths. I’m not so sure. Death too often feels pointless; it’d be nice to at least know your death makes a good story.

What do you think? How do you want to die? How do you never, ever want to die? Here’s hoping either will be *ptui ptui* a long, long time in the future.