One-Liner Wednesday: Inspiration for Writers

“If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

–Toni Morrison

* This post was created as part of Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday series. I posted this quote because recently I’ve been putting together ideas for a book I plan to write; I’d been searching for a book on a specific topic but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, and that’s when this familiar quote popped into my mind. Although I’d heard it many times over the years, in that moment it took on special significance. I’m hoping that sharing it here will be a helpful reminder for other writers, too!

Coincidence, or Something More?

I recently read comedian Jim Breuer’s book, I’m Not High: (But I’ve Got a Lot of Crazy Stories About Life as a Goat Boy, a Dad, and a Spiritual Warrior), published by Gotham Books in 2010.

Jim Breuer book from Amazon

I was surprised by this book’s depth and insights. Not that I didn’t think Jim Breuer was capable of that, but I assumed his material would be like those of many comedians who release books which include a lot of jokes and focus on their rise to fame in a straightforward, biographical way.

While Jim’s book does have funny material and describes his path in comedy and entertainment, there is a refreshing amount of introspective, thoughtful commentary about his personal life. I loved that aspect so much that I ended up finishing the book within a couple of days, despite the fact that the book isn’t super-short (it’s hard to specify length based on reading the Kindle version pictured here, but in print it would be close to 275 pages, according to Amazon).

In this post, I wanted to share two stories from his book which were especially moving; they also teach a lesson that we can all apply to our own lives.

The first one involves how he got to know Chris Farley, who had guested on an episode of Saturday Night Live while Jim was a member of the cast. (Chris had of course been a cast member of SNL himself but had since left by this point.)

While they’d been getting along well enough during the preparations for the episode, Jim was surprised to receive a call from Chris on Thursday of the week Chris was working on that weekend’show; during the call, Chris seemed down and kept asking him to hang out, yet Jim wasn’t even sure how he’d gotten his number. Jim didn’t join him that night but describes being compelled to contact him a few week’s after Chris’ guest-hosting episode:

“I started getting an overwhelming urge to call Chris….I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Still, I’d ultimately talk myself out of it…But the feeling would return.”

Finally, Jim decided to ask his manager to get him Chris’ number so he could see how he was doing.

The next week came and he still hadn’t heard back, though, so towards the end of the week he called his manager again, who apologized and said he’d get him the number by Monday. But, as Jim writes:

“He never got me the number. He’s not to blame.

Chris died the next day. I don’t want you to think that I feel like I am personally to blame or that I’m narcissistic enough to think what happened to Chris directly relates to me. I believe only that I had a chance. I had an opportunity to reach out to help. Would it have done any good? Who knows? I know only that God was telling me to reach out to another human being. I felt it, and I truly heard it loud and clear, and I ignored it. I will never turn my back on Him again…I dropped to my knees and apologized for turning my back and not acting on the messages that were sent to me.  

I know it feels weird and kooky and surreal. And we are conditioned to tune out or fear that kind of stuff. I’m here to say, ‘Don’t.’ You can make a difference. And when the big man gives you that urge, do yourself a favor and at least just give it a shot.”

I was impressed that Jim would share that personal story considering how it must pain him to this day, both because Chris died so young but especially because Jim hadn’t gotten a chance to speak to him before he passed despite his pressing desire to do so. I appreciate his intent to encourage his readers to listen to messages like these and, hopefully, avoid a missed chance like this.

Another story in his book was equally touching, involving a time relatively early in his career when he finally received word he’d gotten a part on the TV show Uptown Comedy Club. On the night Jim got the news, the first person he wanted to call was his brother Eddie, who’d also been a big supporter of his as Jim was starting out in comedy.

That night, by the time Jim had gotten to his then-fiancée Dee’s apartment, it was late. However, he still felt a strong desire to call Eddie with the news since he knew Eddie would be thrilled. So, he started to dial him from Dee’s phone, but was then interrupted:

“‘Who are you calling?’ she asked. ‘It’s late.’

‘Eddie,’ I said, cradling the receiver on my shoulder. ‘I got the show!’

‘You did?’ She smiled. ‘Awesome!’ Then she clicked the base of the phone and hung up the call. ‘Eddie’s got three kids,’ she said.

‘Dee,’ I said, ‘I’m going to be on TV! Real TV!’

‘It can wait until morning. That’s only five hours from now,’ Dee said. ‘Call him at six thirty A.M., he’ll be up early.’

‘All right, all right, all right,’ I said disgustedly. ‘I just really want him to know tonight. I’m one less person he’s gotta worry about, Dee.’

‘He’ll be so happy to hear that,’ she said. ‘In the morning!’”

Only Jim never did get to tell him that in the morning because Eddie died overnight.

Jim and Dee received a call at 5:30 a.m. with the news from Denise, Jim’s niece, who said Eddie had had a heart attack.

Jim describes Eddie’s sudden passing as gutting, and he was particularly shocked about the timing of Eddie’s death:

“I learned from Denise that he’d passed around one fifteen A.M., right around the time I would have been calling him…Do you call that a coincidence? I could have done any number of things after learning I got the TV show, but calling Eddie after one A.M. was at the top of the list…something compelled me to call at that particular time. Why? Don’t ask me. I know I couldn’t have prevented Eddie from dying, but something compelled me to reach out.”

I found this story especially powerful, perhaps because it involved a member of his own family, one he’d been close to. I could only imagine how painful losing him was, particularly when he’d had him on his mind at the very moment of his passing.

I also found it admirable of Jim to realize he couldn’t have prevented what happened. It’s hard to have that kind of clarity when a loss like this happens. I mean, I know if it had been me in Jim’s position I would have wondered if Eddie could have been saved by my call, whether directly or indirectly.

Like if Jim had been able to speak to him, maybe Jim would have heard him begin to have a heart attack and been able to call 911 and send an ambulance over? I mean, assuming Eddie had been able to pick up the phone and begin talking, with the heart attack happening as they were on the phone?

Or even if Jim had called a minute or so after the heart attack, perhaps the ringing phone would have woken Eddie’s family up and they would have noticed something was wrong with him, perhaps with time to get an ambulance there for help?

Even if Eddie surely couldn’t have been saved, I’d still have regrets: for instance, assuming Jim and Eddie would have only talked briefly, with the heart attack occurring a few minutes afterwards with no one knowing until it was too late — at least then Jim would have had the chance to connect with his brother and share some good news with him before he died. Almost as a parting thank you for all the help Jim says Eddie gave him over the years, advising him on career moves, offering guidance on contracts and agent issues…if it were me, I wouldn’t be able to stop wishing I had made that call. Could we have spoken one last time?

I don’t know, I guess it’s not productive to ruminate on questions like these, but it’s so hard not to when something like this happens.

What I do know is, I wouldn’t have been OK with anyone hanging up a phone on me as I was dialing, especially if the person I was trying to call ended up passing away before I got to speak to them again. I know technically I could redial, so if I allowed myself to be convinced not to it wouldn’t be fair to blame what happened on another person. For the record, Jim doesn’t do that with Dee and I think that makes him a greater person than I am! Because if it had been me, I think there’s a good chance I’d still always resent that person for keeping me from talking to a loved one in what would have turned out to be their last moments.

And if I did eventually forgive that aspect and own up to my own role in it, I’m pretty sure it would take me some time to come to that conclusion. Probably so long that the other person now wouldn’t be able to forgive me for how long it took me to process what had happened.

How would you react in a situation like this? And do you believe, as Jim does, that these moments were more than just coincidence?

This post was created as part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday; this week’s writing prompt was, “end your post with a question. Extra points if you fit an exclamation mark somewhere in the body of your post.” I am happy to say I did accomplish both goals! However, the rules also say there should be “no editing, (typos can be fixed) and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.” While I didn’t edit my own words beyond typos, I did think for a while about writing on this topic since I liked the book a lot and wanted to pose some questions about it to readers. Hope that and the fact that I have quotes from another work in my post is OK! 🙂  

Fun, Random Trivia

Did you know that sardines aren’t actually a specific kind of fish? I didn’t! It’s just one piece of interesting trivia featured in Leland Gregory’s Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Through the Ages, originally published in 2007 by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Stupid History by Leland Gregory from Amazon

Here’s the scoop on sardines, as described in the book:

“…there’s no such fish as a sardine. The name applies to any small fish packed in sardine cans. (They’re usually pilchard or small herring.)”

How have I not known that until now?

And ever wonder why sardines are squeezed so tightly into their cans? The author explains that, too:

“The reason sardines are packed, well, like sardines isn’t because companies are trying to give you your money’s worth — it’s because the oil they’re packed in costs more than the fish themselves.”

I found that very interesting. I actually don’t even eat sardines, but we’ve all heard the expression he alludes to; whenever things are cramped, people remark that they’re packed tighter than sardines in a can. I used to wonder why the companies don’t just use bigger cans — now I know it’s all about the oil! Call me a geek, but I love random trivia like this!

Reading this book interested me in finding out what else Leland Gregory has written; I love real-life stories like this that make me laugh or see things in a new light! Turns out he has a lot of books out! The next one I chose by him was Idiots at Work: Chronicles of Workplace Stupidity (Andrews McMeel Publishing, September 1, 2004). Another entertaining read!

Idiots at Work by Leland Gregory from Amazon

Here’s an amusing part of the book, to give you an idea of the kind of material it covers:

“A fifty-two-year-old man in Calcutta, India, who had applied for a state government job finally got the interview he was hoping for — thirty years later. Ravindra Nath Halder was just a teenager when he applied at a state labor exchange office in West Bengal. More than three decades later, Ravindra, now a grandfather, was very surprised to get the letter saying an interview had been granted for the position. Mohammad Amin, India’s Labor minister, said it often took ‘a long time’ for a person to be called for an interview.”

And you thought it took you a long time to hear back from employers?!

Although, at least this man eventually heard — how many times don’t employers today just ignore applications all together, without even bothering to say, “Thanks, but no thanks!” I mean, of course it’s ludicrous that Ravindra’s application took so long to be responded to, but why employers also feel OK ignoring applicants (often even after they’ve taken time to interview!) has also always bothered me. But that’s a story for another time.

What I like most about Leland Gregory’s writing is that he verifies all the stories he includes in his books. For instance, when I Googled the interview story above, I saw that it had in fact been reported and confirmed by reputable sources like the BBC. (Yes, I had to do a spot check myself. Call me neurotic — because I am!)

So if you too enjoy random trivia and true accounts of silly/nonsensical things that happen in life, I suggest looking up Leland Gregory’s work!

Your Work Shouldn’t Make You Miserable

I recently read Ali Wentworth’s book, Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales, published by Harper in 2012. It’s another entertaining read, since Ali is a very funny storyteller and shares interesting accounts of her childhood, her marriage to George Stephanopoulos, and much more.

Ali Wentworth book from Amazon

One humorous comment Ali made really stood out to me, when she’s describing a job offer she received and turned down. Her reason?

“…I make it a point not to mix business with non-pleasure.”

I liked that phrasing! And it started me thinking about how, too often, many of us do the opposite, equating work with drudgery and then suffering through miserable jobs when we shouldn’t — sometimes for years and years! It’s one thing to stick it out until you get a better job, but sometimes we resign ourselves long-term to our present circumstances because we think, “Well, this is what work means. The way I’m feeling is how everyone feels.”

What’s funny is, that’s not true — and it certainly doesn’t have to be the case for you! That kind of thinking would be like saying, “Oh, everyone gets a stomachache now and then,” and continuing to eat rotten food.

We do not have to eat rotten food and suffer the consequences!

Now, there is some truth to the fact that work is work; it can’t be all fun and games. But there’s a difference between occasional stresses on the job, and a bad workplace causing you true unhappiness day in and day out. Below are a few of symptoms experienced by me, and others I know, during periods of deep unhappiness professionally. I’d say if you have more than 2 of the following, you should probably re-evaluate your job:

  • You find yourself watching the clock at the end of each work day just waiting to get out of there.
  • You feel despondent on Sunday nights as the new work week looms ahead (if it starts on Monday for you). The dread may even start as early as Sunday afternoon. The effect is magnified tenfold when you’re returning from vacation time off.
  • You find yourself crashing the minute you get home, or throughout most of your weekend, because you’re too mentally and emotionally exhausted during the work week to do much else in your free time.
  • You sometimes actually hope to get sick so you can miss work for a day or two without having to lie about needing a sick day.
  • You find yourself staring longingly at parks and other outdoor spaces you see on your commute to work, wishing you could be one of the people spending time there and not on your way to your own personal hell.
  • You find yourself unexpectedly having flashbacks to happier times; say, you’re at your desk and suddenly an image pops into your mind of a beach you and your family went to years ago.
  • You bitterly resent any “mandatory fun” events your job requires you to attend, like office lunches; haven’t you spent enough soul-crushing time there already to earn a meal to yourself?
  • You devise and cherish ways to steal some time to yourself while at work, whether it’s taking a longer-than-necessary trip to the bathroom, or coming in late on a regular basis when you know it won’t be noticed. You feel like these stolen moments help you get through each day.
  • You find yourself irritable with everyone close to you, particularly when they seem upbeat and cheerful. It’s not that you want them to be unhappy, but you simply cannot match their energy or enthusiasm, so you end up sounding short with them when you don’t mean to. You may not even be able to keep up with their calls and invitations; all your efforts are focused on getting through the workweek and trying to avoid being a downer around others.
  • You find yourself self-medicating with food, alcohol, cigarettes, or excessive amounts of time spent on video games, gambling, online shopping and mindless TV — whatever will turn your mind off and clear it of work dramas and stressors for a while.
  • You’re experiencing more physical ailments than you used to, like headaches or getting sick a lot. You might also have insomnia, or on the flip side, be unable to wake up easily no matter how long you sleep.

This is by no means a complete list; everyone’s reactions to work misery will vary, and one person’s response may differ depending on what phase of the I-hate-my-job situation they’re in.

I know one tell-tale sign for me was getting emotional in public, since I’m not really one to cry, and certainly not in front of others if I can help it! But one day while taking the subway home from jury duty, I actually found myself crying about my particularly miserable administrator job (due to unpleasant co-workers, tedious work, company-wide inefficiencies, a difficult supervisor and a long commute, in case you were wondering). What’s more, I was crying because I’d been happy to be picked for a jury duty case, since we’d been told it would likely last 2 weeks. I was thrilled about the sanctioned break from my miserable job, but suddenly, on just the second day, the case was abruptly settled out of court and we were dismissed.

Losing that 2-week reprieve was the final straw. My mind just couldn’t reconcile having to return to work so soon. On the train ride back from the courthouse, I started crying and couldn’t stop, surprising even myself. This was so not me, and it seemed ludicrous! Who cries about their jobs, and in public, I thought to myself. And who gets sad when jury duty ends? Most people want to avoid it all together! I seriously reacted to the sudden end of my jury duty service the way I imagine some would act if they’d lost their job.

I also felt bad because some people can’t find a job when they need one — I’ve been there and so have many other people I know personally. So I felt like an ingrate. Plus it’s not like my job was back-breaking. Like maybe construction workers would have the right to hate their jobs — have you ever seen them doing intense work outside on a 100-degree day? I don’t know how they do it! Or firefighters. Or waiters and waitresses…hotel housekeepers…you get the idea. They have hard jobs; from the outside, mine could technically have been viewed as a “cushy” office job, complete with air-conditioning and a comfy chair.

But with the help of a good friend, I soon realized what matters is what I feel — not what I should feel. To use another food analogy (I think maybe I’m hungry?), it wouldn’t make sense to tell a lactose-intolerant person they should enjoy a flavor of ice cream that other people have said is delicious. They’re just not made to be able to enjoy it — they either need to find a non-dairy ice cream replacement, or find another dessert option all together.

And that’s what we need to do with our jobs and careers when we know we’re not a match for the kind of work we’re currently doing, or the environment in which we’re doing it. We have to find another way. It’s not likely to magically get better if we stick it out or try to improve it.

Comedian George Wallace made an excellent point along these lines in his book, Laff it Off! (published by Chaite in 2013):

“There ain’t many things that start out crap, then turn out diamonds. You take a crappy job? That job will be crappy till the moment you leave it….Simple rule: if it starts out crappy, it probably ends up crappy.”

George Wallace book from Amazon

He’s so right. Don’t waste months and years in a futile attempt to make your job better if you’re profoundly unhappy there. I don’t just mean minor dissatisfaction; everyone dislikes certain aspects of their job, like maybe the commute is long, but otherwise you’re generally content. Plus in a scenario like that, you might be able to negotiate one day working from home; although that hasn’t been possible on most of my jobs, a friend of mine actually managed to get 2 days working from home for her employer.

No, I’m talking about when multiple problems exist, and the majority of them aren’t in your control, especially when you don’t enjoy the work you do or make use of your strengths on the job. George Wallace makes a good point in this area as well:

“If you find a job that doesn’t honor your essence, you’re going to hate it. You’re going to phone it in. You’re going to leave it or lose it….”

Transitioning into another job or career before you start phoning it in is important. Otherwise, you risk harming your reputation and your chances of getting a good reference later. Don’t let yourself suffer twice over for a job you hate, now and in the long run!

In the case of my miserable job that made me cry over the end of jury duty, I chose the “leave it” route. I never regretted it, even though I actually quit without another job lined up right away. I’d never done something like that before. I knew the Suze Ormans of the world would lambast me for my decision, but it had gotten to the point that leaving was a matter of self-preservation. I figured I would find something eventually, but even if I didn’t, I would have rather moved and made other tradeoffs just to be able to avoid going to that soul-sucking place for another day. I’d been there about a year but had known since the second month it was completely wrong for me. If anything, I regretted waiting so long to leave — and still regret it. Those are months of my life I can never get back. Although I was lucky enough to land another job I was much happier at soon after, I would have never questioned my decision to quit even if that hadn’t happened.

I encourage you to trust your intuition when you too are facing a miserable job; at least spend some time exploring other jobs and career paths you may be able to try. I once heard someone say that people spend more time planning their vacations than they do planning their lives and careers, and I think that’s crazy — yet true. Let’s not do that anymore.

In future posts, I’d like to cover this topic more, particularly more on how we can go about making a change like this, since I think it’s so important. Hopefully you’ll agree and find it helpful!

Awkward Job Interviews – We’ve All Been There

Books of Adam: The Blunder Years, published by Grand Central Publishing on July 9, 2013, is written by Adam Ellis, the writer/artist behind the funny Books of Adam blog. It’s another fun book I recommend, especially if you’re a fan of sites like The Oatmeal and Hyperbole and a Half.

Adam Ellis book from Amazon

The book is based on the Books of Adam blog and has a lot of great material, but my favorite part is Adam’s account of a job interview gone bad — it’s funny and reassuring at the same time, since most of us have bombed an interview and should remember that it’s happened to nearly everyone at some point! I’ll share an account of one of my own bad interviews in a bit, but first here is Adam’s story:

“When I finally landed an interview at a bookstore, it only proved I had more to worry about than simply getting callbacks from employers. Apparently my interview skills had atrophied and died. I arrived to the interview on time wearing my most professional outfit. But I was so nervous that when the interview asked what the last great book I read was, I froze up. Suddenly I couldn’t remember a single book I’d ever read. I sputtered a nonsense answer about ‘reading so much it’s hard to decide,’ and then stared at the interviewer awkwardly until he moved onto the next question. The saddest part is that I really do read constantly. I could’ve talked about being swept up in the haunting tragedy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or how Kavalier & Clay was so achingly beautiful I didn’t know what to do with myself after finishing it…”

This really amused me. How many times hasn’t that happened to you, where you think of a great response to another person’s question or comment only after your chance to say it has passed? I know it’s happened to me a lot! And it’s even worse when it happens during something like an interview; if you’d just been talking to a friend, it’s not a big deal, plus you could possibly say it later. But an interview? Too bad, that ship has sailed. Plus, in the moment, your anxiety about bombing that question likely throws you off for the rest of the interview and makes you act strangely, like how Adam stared awkwardly at the interviewer afterwards. (That’s what cracked me up the most about his story; I pictured him just sitting there, with the silence lasting longer and longer….!)

I know how Adam must have felt, because it’s happened to me. In one particularly bad interview, I actually said something not only incomprehensible, but it also sounded borderline inappropriate! Here’s what happened.

I was interviewing for a writing internship at a publishing company which produces materials for educational institutions. I really wanted the job because I liked the work the company did, plus the position paid very well compared to other comparable roles (some of which didn’t pay anything at all, actually).  So I was thrilled to have been offered an interview with the head of the company.

All was going well until he asked how long it typically takes me to write a 1,000 word piece. Now, that question threw me for a bit because the length of time a piece of writing takes me varies depending on the subject — do I already know a lot about it or will it involve extensive research? And the approach to the topic is a vital factor too — will it be a news article or a first-person account? Since this company produced a wide range of published works, I wasn’t sure what kind of work I’d be producing for them, and that made answering the question hard for me. Plus in the past, I’d write for as long as it took and had never quantified my work time. I was just beginning my writing career back then and didn’t have enough experience to estimate how long it took me to write — or how long it should take me. Even now, I tend to overthink things and neurotically check, check and re-check my work, but that was especially true then when I was starting out. So I was worried I might answer with a length of time that sounded crazily long, or like an inefficient use of company time — but if I went too far to the other extreme and gave too short of a timeframe, that might make it look like my work wasn’t thorough enough. I knew I was willing to spend extra time on my writing for them during my own free time if needed, since I really needed the experience, but I just wasn’t sure how to base my answer on all these nuances.

I decided to break down my answer into 2 parts, as honestly and realistically as possible: the time I’d likely spend doing background research and outlining the piece, and then how long I’d take to write and polish it. I started to say something along the lines of, “Well, it would probably take me about an hour to do the nuts and bolts of the piece, although that would depend on the topic, and then approximately another hour to organize and polish it.”

But suddenly my brain felt that the term “nuts and bolts” sounded old-fashioned, plus it was vague; I knew I meant research, but I should say that more clearly! Unfortunately, my mouth was faster than my brain, so my internal self-editing turned into me saying that it would likely take me an hour to do the “nuts of the piece,” then another hour to wrap it up.

The nuts of the piece? What the heck is that?

Needless to say, I was immediately embarrassed. I felt my face get red and I was aware of myself fidgeting as I first paused, then quickly rambled on, trying to gloss over my odd response. The interviewer — and remember, the head of the company! — looked at me quizzically for a moment, but didn’t press for clarification. I was relieved but at the same time was also scheming how to retroactively correct my choice of words in a way that wouldn’t draw attention to my error but would make more sense and not seem so…well, weird. But I couldn’t do that and focus on the current questions he was now asking me, so I had to move on. And I was very uncomfortable during the rest of the interview.

Later, a friend asked me why I didn’t just continue saying “nuts and bolts.” But I’d felt I couldn’t — I’d already altered my phrasing and moved past the point where I could use my original sentence! She then asked why I didn’t just try to work in the journalism term “nut graf” that we’d learned in our college classes, which refers to the paragraph in a news story which summarizes the essential points of the article. That would have been a decent strategy, but I was too far gone by that point to even think of something intelligent like that. It was all I could do to keep up with the rest of the interview and try to get to the end of it with some dignity.

Amazingly, however, I got the job! I really hadn’t expected to, especially since this was a writing job. I figured they’d want someone who could communicate better than I had! But somehow I was hired. That might be why I’m able to laugh about the interview now; had I lost out on the opportunity, I probably wouldn’t be as light-hearted about it.

I’m now glad it happened, actually — it showed me that an occasional slip-up doesn’t spell doom and mean certain failure. And looking back, I realize I could have handled it better. Now that I’m older and not as easily embarrassed, if the same scenario happened today, I think I’d just briefly correct what I’d said and explain it.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still feel odd for what I’d said; I would, and I’d definitely still blush. (That is a weakness of mine I can’t seem to fix!) But I’d probably say something like, “You know, the nuts and bolts of the piece. In other words, I’d research the topic; then I’d…” And just keep moving forward normally, versus freezing and then prattling on in a nervous, overcompensating way.

Trying to hide a mistake, when you’re clearly aware of it, just makes you look like you’re not willing to admit your own shortcomings. Who wants to work with someone like that? I know we’re told to highlight our strengths and downplay our weaknesses and mistakes in a professional setting, but I prefer to just say the truth, without any spin. Not sure if that’s the “smart” approach, but it’s worked for me over the years. Why try to hide the obvious?

Overall, here’s what I now say about interview slipups:

  • If you’ve ever had a bad interview you keep beating yourself up over — don’t! It’s done, and it happens to all of us — and it’s not the end of the world.
  • If you get the job in spite of it, you’ll know you really had what they were looking for if they were able to look past your gaffe.
  • If you don’t get the job? It probably wasn’t just because of that — I know that may sound discouraging, but what I mean is, it could be for reasons you couldn’t control right now anyway. Like maybe they hired someone who was able to take a lower salary, or the position itself is being put on hold.
  • But if they did rule you out based on something odd you said or did, but which is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, then you probably wouldn’t have wanted to work there anyway. Having had my share of miserable work environments over the years, I now would rather not get a job where people are uptight and closed-minded than get it and hate every day I have to drag myself into the office.

Hope this helps anyone who has never gotten over an interview mistake, or those of you who may have an interview coming up…and that’s the nuts of what I have to say right now.

Only Children of the World, Unite!

I’m addicted to books, especially ever since getting my Kindle PaperWhite. (No, I do not work for Amazon or have any vested interest in promoting them; I simply love my Kindle. And Amazon overall. And maybe Jeff Bezos a little bit.) So I find myself reading much more now and have been lucky enough to come across some pretty good books.

A “good” book to me can be anything from a humorous memoir by a comedian or actor to a how-to book on a topic like entrepreneurship. The main thing is that it be true. I’m just not typically drawn to fiction. When told creatively, I think nonfiction can be as much fun to read as a novel, with the added benefit of knowing what I’m reading actually happened. That helps me relate to or learn from the material more so than I would if I were reading fiction.

Anyway, in this and future posts, I’ll share some interesting passages from the books I’ve recently read; hopefully they’re interesting/thought-provoking/inspirational to you too!

Judy Greer book picture from Amazon

Today I’ll start with Judy Greer’s I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star, published by Doubleday this April. The author is an actress known for taking on supporting roles in many movies, often playing the lead’s best friend or co-worker. I found the whole book to be a fun, entertaining read, but I especially liked Judy’s thoughts on growing up as an only child. At one point, she writes:

“As I’m sure any other only child has experienced, people are always asking me what it was like to be an only child. But I don’t know how to answer that question. What is it like to be a girl? Or a boy? What is it like to breathe?”

As an only child myself, I have to attest to the fact that people really do do this! I too have been asked very often what it was like not to grow up with brothers or sisters. And, like Judy, I’ve had a hard time describing the experience since it was just the way things were in my house. I love reading her take on what it feels like to be asked this, because her thoughts were expressed so well and echoed what I think but haven’t been able to fully articulate in the moment!

In another great section, she writes:

“People also tell me I don’t seem like an only child. I think it’s meant as a compliment, but what does that mean? I haven’t met loads of a**hole only children. If you fill a room with all the a**holes you know, I’d bet that most of them have siblings. How many people am I being compared with? Maybe we’ve gotten a bad reputation, but I don’t really understand why. If I act obnoxious, is it because I’m an only child? Maybe I’m just obnoxious. If a siblinged person acts obnoxious, maybe it’s because he/she has siblings.”

Note: the asterisks are my editing of the word she actually used; just trying to keep this page family-friendly! (How considerate of me, don’t you think?!)

Anyway, I love this part. I can’t tell you how many times people have given me a “compliment” like this and really seemed to think nothing of it. If I’m reasonably social and willing to lend someone a book? Wow, how un-only-child-like of me! Aren’t only children all supposed to be awkward, selfish people? That’s basically what people with siblings seem to think when they give a “compliment” like the one Judy described so well! I really don’t get why people think saying something like that is OK.

I mean, would you ever say something similar to a person based on any other unfair stereotype — and in all seriousness? Not to bring race into this, but…let’s bring race into this. Just as an example. Think of any hurtful/inaccurate stereotype you’ve heard said about a particular ethnic group or race. Can you ever imagine meeting someone from that background and saying, as if pleasantly surprised, “Oh wow, you totally don’t act like that!” Like if someone said, “You don’t drink? Wow, you don’t seem Irish at all!” By the way, I’m part Irish so I can say that. I think. Anyway, you get my point. It still shocks me whenever stereotypes like this one involving only children get passed around as fact, and are expressed freely, because the people saying them truly don’t see them as being wrong – but they technically are!    

Here’s one final segment of Judy’s writing on only children, which I also loved:

“When I ask people about their choice to have a second child, almost all of them say, ‘We just don’t want to have an only child.’ Why? I can’t help but be slightly offended by this. People who seem already overwhelmed by their first baby are having another in order to ensure that they won’t have this freak-of-nature only child.”

Later in the text she goes on to ask a good question, wondering whether this is partly due to the parents projecting their own fears of being alone. Hopefully that’s it; I can understand that more since it’s based on their own challenges and comes from a caring place, versus people just finding only children weird and worthy of avoiding at all costs.

In reality, being an only child is just the other side of the sibling coin — no better or worse, in my opinion. If anything, I actually feel I benefited a lot from the experience. For instance, like most only children, I communicated at an advanced level from an early age since I was talking with adults most of the time. I also was able to keep myself entertained without needing the company of others — and not in a sad aw, she was playing all by herself kind of way but in a way that was empowering at a young age. I knew early on what I liked to do and didn’t need anyone to help me do it, whether it be deciding what cartoon to watch or which toys to play with. It also taught me to appreciate being with other kids my age when it happened — for the record, I wasn’t the kid who insisted games be played her way or whatever else some people assume about only children. (If anything, I found controlling kids like that very odd — and, to prove Judy’s point, in most cases those kids actually had siblings!) I was also able to adjust to new situations on my own much more easily than other children my age, since I wasn’t used to having a peer by my side in every situation. That’s why I was able to get through the first day of kindergarten without crying or even feeling upset, unlike many of the other children around me. I actually remember a lot about that day — I found it odd that so many kids were crying hysterically! What was so wrong? (On a side note, it’s strange how that memory is very clear to me, yet I can barely remember to pick up my dry cleaning now.)

Ultimately, my childhood was a happy one even without brothers and sisters around. So that’s why I really liked Judy Greer’s book — I rarely see people talk about being an only child, particularly in such a funny, right-on! kind of way. I think it’s great for people with or without siblings to read her account of what it’s like. I thoroughly enjoyed that, as well as the rest of the book. If you get a chance, I suggest reading it. It’s a fun summer read!