Apr 14

America-phile – Life Across the Pond

Hello, hey, bonjour, ciao… alright?

I can’t believe that it’s been eight months
since I’ve written a post on here. Wowsers
trousers. A LOT has changed! As some of my friends and regular readers know in September 2009 I emigrated to the United States of America to marry my long term American girlfriend.

I’m going to catch you up on the things that I’ve been involved with and I provide you with ten tips and food for thought along the way. They’re not all focused on techniques for using humour in presentations. They’re  more goal setting and getting work oriented.

This blog has been offline ever since because, in the past, I have made some commission off affiliate products that I have promoted. In December 2009 new FTC rules came in to force stating that all bloggers and other affiliate marketers have to be explicit about the products that they promote to their readers.

So you will probably notice a few disclaimers now as I try to adhere to these new rules. The thing is the commissions, while small, have helped contribute towards paying bills. The goal being that I am able to supplement my speaking and coaching income via this blog.

Due to the restrictions of my K1 fiance visa I’ve not been able to make an income since September 2009. Oh yes, it’s been a while and it’s been very tough. And I’ve not been able to leave without special permissions, more forms and more money. But now my green card allows me to get back to it and visit my family in the U.K. too.

During my time off from blogging,  and making an income, I have been absorbed in the new culture and trying to meet new people. There are certain similarities and differences between the U.S. and the U.K.

As John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction: “it’s the little differences”.

I’ve met some really cool people since I’ve been here and one or two… interesting people. For instance, I had a receptionist panic over the fact that I described myself as foreign. Mental note, don’t confuse the natives.

It turns out that you have to carry I.D. with you everywhere. Which was wildly inconvenient for me for the first six months as I didn’t have anything other than my passport. So I tried to avoid going places that involved security and paranoid people.

Finally, though, at the end of March I got my work permit and THEN my green card. I applied for both and didn’t expect the green card to be processed as quickly as it was. The powers of the green card supersede the need for my work permit. But I can’t quite let myself leave it home filed away yet. I worked so hard and filled in so many forms to get it and it became invalid in less than a week later with the arrival of the green card.

And just to be clear, the green card does NOT make me a citizen, there has been some confusion with people I’ve spoken to about this. It makes me a resident only, as it’s official name is the Permanent Resident Card. This allows me to live, and work in the U.S. and go on vacation whenever time and money allow.

Tip 1: When you set a goal, sometimes it doesn’t happen immediately. There are often other factors BEYOND your control. In my case I couldn’t control how long it would take the USCIS to process my Permanent Resident Card. It takes as long as it takes. they can tell you estimated time-frames only. You have to focus on the things that ARE within your control. Like your patience and belief that you will achieve your goal eventually.

Tip 2: Also, take into consideration the time-frame. With something like my green card I had no idea how long it would realistically take. So I set my goal on July 27th 2008, around he time my wife first petitioned, and I put down a ballpark figure of achievement on the 27th November 2010; two years and four months later. I figured if I achieved it earlier than that then it’s something to celebrate. And I did, and it was.

I have to carry the green card with me at all times ever since the immigration rules changed in this post-9/11 world. So there’s really not much point to me getting a State I.D. It’s not too bad for me as I never had an I.D. in the U.K. I didn’t passed my driving test (failing spectacularly just before moving to the London) and they haven’t rolled out I.D. cards Nationwide yet. So right now, it’s a nice novelty.

During all the free time that I’ve had I’ve spent time putting together workshops, working on speeches and attending Toastmasters meetings. I have also spent time updating my main website and trying to deal with the fact that I need to get a .com, but the owner of jasonpeck.com isn’t willing to communicate with me as I would like to buy it. (At time of writing a website doesn’t exist on that domain). That means I will have to get an alternative, which will cost money. Which is not in abundance right now.

I’ve also spent time hustling trying to get work lined up so I can slide smoothly into paid gigs once I am legally allowed. Now I am legally allowed, it’s not exactly a smooth transition. There’s a lot of negotiating going on and I just need to be a little tenacious about things.

For instance, I have a just completed a voice-over consultant contract. It’s with a local branch of the insurance firm, Northwestern Mutual. They’re in the process of re-vamping their website and have expanded a lot of the training modules. As they create new modules and continue to expand their training website there could be additional work in the future.

More as I know it.

Tip 3: I got this opportunity because I hustled and got a meeting with my wife’s boss. My wife currently works for the company. I made an impression and got offered the job. Do you know anyone where you might be able to get an opportunity yourself? Your partner, your friend, your current work colleagues, your sibling, your parents? Who do you know, and who do those people know, that you might be able to find an opportunity through? How can you effectively network?

I have also tried to get a weekend presentation skills bootcamp off the ground, but this seems to be a large uphill struggle, for a number of different reasons. The easiest thing for me at this juncture seems to be that I should just focus on smaller things that involve only me. It sounds a little selfish, but sometimes involving other people, when they aren’t familiar with your work can be problematic. Especially when there are multiple components to consider.

Tip 4: When setting goals, allow for lag-time. Sometimes the big goal-setting gurus gloss over this aspect, but I think it’s really important. You have to remember that life’s delays are not always life’s denials. You have to deal with the variables and control what you can. You cannot always control forces outside of yourself, i.e.: other people.

I am also in negotiations with The University of Chicago to go and teach a presentation skills workshop for them. The details are yet to be finalised, but it’s definitely in the pipeline for the next month or so. This is a pretty big gig as the U of C is a private, coeducational research University. It is affiliated with 46 Rhodes scholars and 85 Nobel Prize winners, as of 2009. It’s one of the top 3 Universities in Chicago. So it’s something that I’m really looking forward to doing. Expect a post to appear here.

Tip 5: Sometimes the old-fashioned route works. I’ve never been a big fan of cold calling, I prefer to network and meet people. There are a number of business gurus that are against cold calling, while others support doing it in a unique way. This opportunity, is proof that it can work. Although it might not always be the most effective solution.

I also guested on a comedy podcast a couple of times called Playing in Peoria. PiP is based on the old vaudeville concept that if a show could work in a small town like Peoria, Illinois then it would play in any middle American town. It’s fun as I get on well with the other comedy performers who are quickly establishing themselves on the Chicago comedy scene. We generally just sit down and chat for 45 minutes to an hour about different topics. It’s actually fairly edgy and frequently distasteful in the humour. Not at all corporate appropriate, but funny and enjoyable nonetheless.

There may be a couple of opportunities on the horizon with some of these guys. I’ll have to see how things develop and I’ll let you know.

Tip 6: While everything you’re focused on might be geared towards your business or your job, are you doing things just for fun too? You never know what may come from the times when you’re just letting loose and enjoying yourself.

I recently went along as a guest to a Junior Chamber of Commerce meeting. They’re interested in me running a workshop a bit later on this year. The only thing is their main focus is on community projects. This is a great notion, but right now my energies need to be focused on my business and generating an income. So right now, I’m holding off on joining them until I’m in a better position income-wise.

Tip 7: While contribution is a great thing in life, are you taking on too many things that are distracting you from the goals and the things you really want to achieve? Contribution will always be there, but take care of yourself first then you won’t end up feeling guilty about having a diluted focus.

I also took classes at iO, Chicago’s famed improvisation training centre, for two terms. I wanted to take classes there ever since I read Charna Halpern’s book Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisationback in drama school in 1998. Charna is the co-founder of the training center and co-writer, along with the late Del Close.

The other reason I wanted to get involved in doing the classes was so that I would be able to work with other people again. I’ve spent the best part of four years or so mainly doing solo work. So it was good to work on stage with others again.

I only did the two terms, because again money has been tight and really we can only afford to the essential things at the moment. Once I have a more regular and consistent income I will go back and complete the training.

Taking improv classes has been good for my public speaking skills and it gets to me to access my spontaneity on a more regular basis as well as giving me valuable stage time.

Tip 8: See if you can find an improv class near you that you can take. You don’t have to completely commit to becoming an improviser. By taking a class you can free yourself up, gain some confidence about standing in front of a group of people with nothing and think a little differently. If you’re involved with Toastmasters participate in Table Topics more.

I’m also about to start rehearsals for a series of short comic plays written by David Ives. The pieces will be directed by my wife for her newly established theatre company. The goal is to try and make enough money so that the company can file for not-for-profit status. So the show will mark my Chicago theatrical debut. Again, it will be a nice departure for me working and playing with others. There’s only four of us in the cast, so that’s nice and manageable.

Right now I am Managing Producer as well as company member. Please check out the Focal Point Theatre Company’s website here: Focal Point Theatre Company.

Tip 9: if you’re feeling a bit creatively stagnant work with a different “brush”. Do you always work with other people? Try doing something by yourself, or vice versa. Do you always work on your computer? Can you go analog for a bit and use a pen and paper instead? It might just help you break through and create something really interesting.

I also have ideas for other comedy projects bubbling away. It’s amazing how a change of scenery, or in my case country, can completely jump-start the creative process. However, the “planets need to align” a little more for these projects to get off the ground.

Tip 10: alternatively, take a break and see if you can get a change of scenery. You don’t have to emigrate anywhere like I did, but a holiday or even a city-break somewhere might help change things up.

What do I want to achieve now I have my green card that isn’t actually green (disappointing really, it hasn’t been fully green since at least the 1940s)? Well, to essentially keep doing the things I’ve started doing, but to get paid handsomely for doing them. Is that too much to ask? I’ll let you know if it is.