On being ... sensible shoes

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ve been having shoulder troubles since February. I don’t know exactly what caused it, but I know it happened in a fitness class. Early on, I took it easy for a number of weeks and tried the usual remedies: ice, heat, ibuprofen, etc. Eventually I went to a sports medicine clinic about it.

I felt a bit self-conscious because I figured the clinic was probably used to real athletes and their injuries, not recreationally active middle-aged women who don’t even know how they hurt themselves. But the doctor reassured me I was right to look after the shoulder sooner rather than later, as shoulders can freeze, which is much harder to deal with. After assessing my problem, the doctor prescribed physio and suggested massage therapy.

As I was leaving, the doctor noticed me heave my purse onto my shoulder. She commented about the size of the purse and I explained that it’s handy because files fit in it. After a loud, “hmmm”, she said, “you might want to switch to a backpack-type purse -- they’re much better for you.” No way, I thought -- I’ve never liked that look. Backpack purses were “in” awhile back and it seemed you couldn’t find anything BUT them, but I just didn’t like the look. I thanked the doctor and went to reception to book the physio.

I’ve had physio for back and knee problems and I’ve always had terrific results from it. When I’m in physio, I dutifully do all the assigned exercises. But, as I confessed to the physiotherapist, sometimes I’m a bit lazy on the stretching front.

The progress through physio has been slow and frustrating. Every couple weeks I’ve been given new or different stretches and strengthening exercises -- but for a long time the ache continued. At one point the physiotherapist suggested I keep a diary to determine whether my activities, like yanking on lines during sailing races, might be aggravating it.

Though the physiotherapist didn’t say anything about it, I figured my huge purse probably was not helping. So, at some point I decided to lightened my load. I ditched the monster purse in favour of a handbag that was pretty much only big enough for a wallet, cell phone, and glasses case. Switching to a small purse may not sound like a big deal, but all my friends and family commented on the change. I also tried carrying it on the other shoulder, but I couldn’t. I’ve been carrying it on the same shoulder all my life -- it’d be easier to adjust to writing with my other hand.

Having already made the change in purse, and having become a model stretcher, when racing season finally ended, I was hoping the shoulder pain would disappear. But it didn’t. Instead, one day I woke with a sharp stabbing pain that was far worse than the original problem. So back to the doctor I went. She said that different muscles were probably stepping in to compensate and now those muscles were fatigued, causing new or different pain.

The doctor explained that, despite my recent efforts, my muscles are tight from years of not enough stretching and my posture isn’t great. Though I knew I have tight muscles, I was surprised when she mentioned my posture. Not planning on auditioning for the role of the Hunchback, I asked what she meant. Turns out my shoulders are uneven. Guess which one is making its way toward my ear? Yup -- the one I’ve always carried my purse on -- the one that’s been giving me problems.

Needless-to-say, I left the doctor’s office disheartened. I think we all know that bad habits come home to roost at some point, but knowing that in your head is one thing -- physical manifestations (like shoulder pain) are quite another. For the next few days, every time I went to put my purse on my shoulder, I thought twice and chose to carry it instead.

Then one day I was talking with a friend about a foot problem she’s having that just won’t seem to go away. When I asked her if the pain has caused her to make any changes, she said it has: apparently she’s stopped working out because of it. But, she continued, it hasn’t stopped her from wearing heals to the office. I told her that I had long ago made the switch to sensible shoes. She shook her head as she said she’s just not ready for that. My friend’s footwear decision sure seemed silly to me -- but then, who was I to talk?

The very next day I went shopping. Unfortunately, the current trend is for big purses. (So big they make my purse the doctor commented on look like a wallet!) But, by the end of the day I found what I was looking for: the purse equivalent of sensible shoes -- a smallish (tasteful) leather backpack.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... too earnest

By Ingrid Sapona

As a consultant, responding to requests for proposals -- RFPs -- is a necessary evil, since lots of lucrative, interesting, projects are awarded that way. Because most RFPs are awarded based strictly on submissions -- there’s rarely an interview or negotiation of any sort -- putting together a good proposal is crucial and doing a good job is incredibly time consuming.

If you don’t win the bid, usually all you get it a brusque “thanks for responding”. Though I always ask for feedback on bids I don’t win, often the comments are either pretty general or a bit vague. Last week, for example, on one proposal I was told the fee I quoted was high and that they found the fee structure confusing.

Besides being disappointed at not getting that work, I was disheartened because I had painstakingly set out and explained each element of the quote. As I understood the project, it involved a number of steps, some of which had a number of variables that impacted on the amount of work involved. So, I set out a fee range based on the variables, along with an absolute maximum (an amount they could use in their budgeting). I based the quote on my normal rate, which I believe is pretty much the going rate for my line of work and experience.

I mentioned to Elizabeth (not her real name), a friend who works at a big consulting firm, that I was discouraged about the comments and about another recent proposal that I lost to a lower bidder. (They never tell you what the actual winning bid was, they only tell you that yours was higher than the winning bid.) Elizabeth wondered whether some consultants might be low-balling on bids in hopes of snagging the work, and then figuring out a way to up the price once they’ve started on the project. At the risk of sounding incredibly naive, I had to admit I hadn’t considered that -- much less thought of doing that.

As we talked, I realized maybe she was on to something. I told her about a consultant I know, for example, who often tells me about work she’d doing where she’s decided to ask her client for more than she quoted because she feels she’s doing more than she agreed to do. She refers to such work as “out-of-scope”. Though I’d never said anything to her about this, I’ve always wondered whether she just has an awful lot of clients who misrepresent projects, or who demand major changes mid-project, or whether she’s just very bad at gauging the scope of projects and way more gutsy than me when it comes to asking for more money.

As I said to Elizabeth, that sort of thing almost never happens to me because before I quote on a project, I make sure I understand the deliverables and all the steps. Then I estimate the time the project will likely take and the quote is based on that. The way I see it, when clients hire me for a set fee, I promise to produce quality work on time and on budget -- it’s all part of the deal. If something ends up taking more time than I anticipated, well, that’s the risk of quoting a flat fee.

Recently, for example, a client hired me to write three guides. Before quoting, I asked for details about what each guide would cover. After the project started, the client decided a topic slated for one guide was more appropriate as a separate guide, so we ended up doing a fourth. Putting together an extra guide meant a bit more work for me, as I had to write a separate introduction, conclusion, etc.

Though I could’ve made a case for charging more, I took a number of things into account and I decided not to. For example, I considered that I didn’t think the client purposely misrepresented the project. I also figured that if I’d have been more assertive in our preliminary discussions, we might have realized the need for a fourth guide, in which case I would have been justified quoting a higher amount. Finally, I considered whether what I was paid for the work was fair and I figured it was.

Elizabeth and I discussed the approaches other consultants might be taking and I reiterated that I think it’s better to be painstaking and thorough in quoting -- even if it means the quote seems a bit high -- because I’m willing to suffer the consequences if a project takes more time than the time than I estimated. I concluded the conversation complaining that my problem is that “I’m too earnest”.

No sooner did those words escape my lips than I thought of something I overheard a classmate (let’s call him Mr. Big) say in law school years ago. Mr. Big was telling his buddy about how he did in an interview that morning with a prestigious firm. When asked by the interviewer what he thought his worst quality was, Mr. Big answered: “I sometimes work too hard”. I vividly remember that when I heard that, I wanted to gag. The nerve, I thought, of making it sound like he’s a victim of something he knew a potential employer would see as a virtue! A moment later I realize the connection my subconscious had made between Mr. Big’s comment and mine about being too earnest.

I’ll never be able to be anything but earnest when it comes to my business, which I think most would agree is appropriate. But, like so many things in life, moderation is the key. Being “too” earnest has clearly become a problem for me, as it might be jeopardizing my chances of winning bids, and it might even have become a bit of an emotional crutch.

Well, I guess if I hope to win future bids, I’ve got my work cut out for me: I’ve got to find a way of quoting that I’m comfortable with but that isn’t too earnest for my own good.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona