Blog: Angela Kujava

With a disturbing desire to rehab resumes and a passion for the written word, Angela Kujava recently established Corner Booth Writing, providing clear and expressive resumes and freelance work. A true Gemini, her left-brained twin is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a Certified Investment Management Analyst consultant, and therefore considers talking about saving for retirement exceedingly sexy.

In 2007, after deciding to kick out all the windows on life, Angela joined the board of directors of 826michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students age 6 to 18 with creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. For two years she served as the organization’s Treasurer, and was elected board President in March. Though it has never been a formal duty of an officer, she has created, spray-painted and danced in robot costumes multiple times in undeniable support of Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, 826michigan’s retail store.

As the recently retired co-chair of Leadership Ann Arbor, a Chamber program about effective and responsible citizenship that provides a foundation for the development of a sustainable and vital community, she will gush endlessly about its benefits. She is also a co-founder of YP Underground, an informal networking group dedicated to uniting Ann Arbor young professionals in purely social settings with absolutely no agenda whatsoever. 

Angela was a 2009 finalist for Fusion’s Horizon Awards. She received her super marketable Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Michigan, and can still be found in the stadium on football Saturdays, sometimes in a blue wig.
Angela Kujava - Most Recent Posts:

Angela Kujava - Post 3: Serve rather than preside

Millennials, so many attempts have been made to define the characteristics of you Gen Y-ers I’m surprised you’re not yet the subject of a 300-level cultural anthropology class. Perhaps it hasn’t been consequentially different for previous generations entering the workforce, but it just seems that tomes of information are being collected to answer the questions “who are they?’ and “what on earth do they want?” (Read that with as much breathless paranoia as you feel it deserves.)  I wonder, do you sit in focus groups and take bets as to when it will eventually happen that some Boomer just outright pokes you with a stick?

One thing about you is certain, as shown by consensus of countless reports—you’re civic-minded, ambitious and team-oriented. They also say you’re also mind-bogglingly mollycoddled and won’t do anything unless you walk away with a trophy. Yikes.

So, you deeply care about making an impact with your life.  As a whole, I’m certain this can be said of any age group. How Millenials are unique, and apparently stupefying to the establishment, is in their collaborative approach to attaining influence and power. Gen X strived to be individualistic; Gen Y fostered social networking groups that connect millions.

The Wall Street Journal recently blogged about the rules of online engagement as set by the Facebook Generation. One striking header “Leaders serve rather than preside” best sums a plea I believe your non-profit community is making to you.

As I’m sure it’s been mentioned in this publication, there are approximately 300 non-profit organizations in Washtenaw County alone, and they are screaming for new blood. Sitting on the board of directors for a local charitable organization is not reserved for the stodgy and semi-retired. 

In January 2007 I walked into an office suite painted intermittently hot pink, neon green, bright turquoise and polka dot.  And there were monsters everywhere. Children walked in with wide grins and open minds to sit in this place and write. Not play—pen to paper writing. The Executive Director of 826michigan will very kindly argue that I was professional and polite, but I’ll tell you it was an all-out ambush—I had to be a part of this.

Today we’re in a different facility where the walls are plums and greens, but the store is still turquoise. There are no monsters, as they went on strike and have been replaced by robots. We fundraise with these robots in the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair store, and by organizing such events as an annual Mustache-A-Thon, Mittenfest, The Love Hangover and 24-Hour Theater. It is, by far, the coolest enterprise in which I have been involved.

It has also proven to be the most powerful forum to hone and contribute my leadership ability. Among other accomplishments of 826michigan in the 2+ years I have served on the Board we have: made major real estate decisions and transactions to relocate downtown, completely changed our brand identity, and opened a quirky niche retail store that is thus far thriving.

The point of this gushing is not to convince you that 826michigan and its people are incredibly awesome (though it is and they are).  I’m making an attempt to impress you before I tell you the part that still blows my mind sometimes. In each of these weighty decisions, as a board member and regardless of age, my opinion counted.  Whether or not one’s views are in harmony with the end choice, each board member is considered an equally crucial part of the discussion. It’s a heady feeling, but a great responsibility

Step up and serve as a fiduciary on a board of directors. Find the organization that speaks to you, that causes you to ninja ambush the director (metaphorically, of course) and tell him/her why you absolutely have to be involved. NEW not only offers inexpensive classes teaching you your responsibilities as a board member, they will set you up with BoardConnect—think for you and non-profit organizations—so you can seek out your passion, or help it find you.

This is allegedly the exact sort of thing you want, Gen Y.  In return for it you’ll create a vast network of associates, develop skills you may not otherwise in your chosen field of employ, and some of you may even find that your voice is much louder and more confident than you’d suspected.

Leaders serve rather than preside.  It’s your schtick, and it’s vital you act upon it.  And service is an unbelievable reward.

Angela is on the cusp of Gens X and Y and flits back and forth between the two as it suits her mood.

Angela Kujava - Post 2: Speaking of those social safety nets

The word “networking” often conjures up the image of slick guys in suits uncomfortably pressing their shiny business cards into your hand.  Or maybe some exhausting exercise of patience, listening to people convince you that they have the magic product to fulfill your unfulfilled needs, all the while forcing yourself to persuade them of your virtues in return.

While that does indeed happen, several groups have been established to give networking a new identity focused on friendship building in conjunction with, and as opposed to, professional promotion.  There need be no argument that this involves much less stress, and is just as effective a means of advocating yourself or business.

Especially in these times of uncertainty, it is essential to look beyond the purely promotional reasons for networking.  Building a solid network of fellow professionals and creating friendships, not acquaintances but friendships, is knitting your own social safety net.

As the former co-chair of Leadership Ann Arbor, I did my best to stress this concept right off the bat.  In an environment in which 40-60 participants meet with each other once a month it is easy to underestimate the importance of furthering those relationships outside class.  The same applies to any networking groups in which you are involved: it’s not enough to show up once a month.

A quick example—one night I may or may not have found myself involved in an impromptu puppet show in front of an audience of several local business types.  I knew only one other person in the room, and strangely that one person was not my fellow puppeteer.  As unusual as it was, and as absolutely silly as it sounds, my new partner in sock hand crime quickly became a great friend, and has often given me invaluable professional advice.  Not only that, she has been a constant source of encouragement, especially when I felt in crisis.  All this due to a spontaneous moment of levity (that may or may not have happened).

Opportunities to meet exciting, professional people in Ann Arbor are scattered and without cohesion (often a major complaint among the very same population), but they do exist in large numbers.  Leadership Ann Arbor, as I mentioned above, coaches local business people on effective and responsible citizenship.  Having chosen to take part in this Chamber program for three years I will, of course, stress its importance.  More than that, I can honestly tell you that it utterly transformed my life in very positive ways.  But I have found that to be the case with all the networking groups I’ve joined, as long as I have put forth the effort to simply continue relationships outside the scope of scheduled meetings.

The Chamber has several of low-cost options available to you, but if money isn’t in your arsenal right now there are also plenty of free choices.  You can join YP Underground on Facebook, and come out to have a drink with 50-70 people once every six weeks(ish).  At the time of this writing, boasts 158 groups in Ann Arbor who meet to share common interests spanning art, hobbies, pets, science, religion, etc. You’ll probably find that soon you’ll be invited to a party, poker/movie/girls’/guys’ night, or even someone’s wedding.  Just as important, when you find yourself in a moment of distress you’ll be comforted knowing there are a whole slew of people right around the corner you can contact to help you figure it out.

Please list serving a non-profit board in the category of “fantastic ways to meet fascinating people.”  Tomorrow I’ll discuss the significant impact doing so has on both you and your community.

Angela Kujava - Post 1: Employers—talk money even when there is none to give

In general, people approach serious discussions of financial planning enthusiastically.  Ultimately, though, the conversations quickly deviate into “what do you think about [my favorite stock]?” or, “I lost/didn’t lose X dollars last fall,” or, “listen, here’s my [insert highly unorthodox scheme], it’s gold, DON’T YOU AGREE?!?”  To be fair, these conversations can be quite entertaining, probably more so than me lecturing on the importance of retirement planning, but by ignoring the slightly mundane conversations we are ignoring an enormous problem.

As co-founder of a networking group for Ann Arbor’s young professional population, YP Underground, I meet a high volume of 20- to 30-somethings, and recently I surveyed several on their knowledge and interest in financial planning.  Generally speaking, these professionals are very well-educated, still gainfully employed, and have the opportunity for highly successful futures.  I mean, they’re Ann Arborites.  They comprise the exact demographic over which everyone clamors.  Clearly they have it figured out, right?

You may have grasped from the sarcasm that I am not comfortable with the responses.  Nor am I shocked or judgmental.  Were it not for my vocational experience and professional education, I would probably submit very similar replies.  I wouldn’t know how much income is the “right” amount to save, I probably couldn’t coherently explain the difference between a traditional and a Roth IRA, I might not be saving regularly to a retirement plan, and the concept of retirement probably wouldn’t even be on my radar (as it is not for a vast majority of my respondents).  Not to mention I probably wouldn’t be able to define what retirement meant to me.  No longer are we taught these things, even with one of the best public higher education institutions right in our back yard (for the record, I am a Michigan grad and I certainly didn’t learn about 401(k) contributions in the four years I spent there.  Nor were the ramifications of “student loan consolidation” accurately conveyed, but that’s a story for another day).

The survey revealed a most disturbing contradiction—overwhelmingly, respondents understood that they would have to work beyond age 65, and many did not feel they would be able to retire.  A majority also reported that they did not believe they would receive full Social Security and Medicare benefits, if any at all.  And yet a whopping 88% stated that they were only mildly worried or not even thinking about retirement.  Have they given up hope that society has left them with nothing to work and so they should just scrap the whole thing?

I don’t think so.  Ann Arbor young professionals are worried about paying the rent and paying the bills.

The impetus to attract and retain young talent lies in the fact that these folks are crucial to the success of this community, as they are for any city.  So often we see initiatives directed at making downtown life easier or more appealing for this specific population, and many times addressing affordable housing.  I won’t contradict the argument that cheap rent will attract talent and is an important discussion.

My expertise is not housing, so let me approach you from a different angle.  Survey results indicate that people want to save, they just don’t feel as if they’re able to do so.  Are area employers offering competitive benefits packages that incentivize participants to save?  Employees of the University receive a highly competitive two for one match on 403(b) contributions up to 5% of salary (though anyone hired after January 1, 2010 will now have to wait a full year for this match).  Understandably the University is a behemoth, and as the county’s largest employer can better afford to provide contribution matches than smaller companies.  

  1. Ask a financial advisor to come in and speak to your employees about retirement options.  Many are thrilled to do so just for the opportunity to meet new people.  Yes, in many cases they may try to sell their services or a product, however they may also provide some really sound advice.
  2. Support automatic IRA enrollment.
  3. At the beginning of each year provide internet links to IRA contribution eligibility and limitations.  Encourage employees to contribute what they can throughout the year, or to make a previous-year contribution prior to April 15th if they have extra cash on hand.

I’m not imploring you to hand-hold, and honestly the young professional population does not expect that. You can see it in their responses—they anticipate working a long, long time. My hypothesis in all this is that if you help empower them to plan for a future that doesn’t include toiling until they drop dead maybe they’ll work for you, in Ann Arbor, for years to come.