SOCS

Stream of Consciousness Saturday — Time isn’t Always of the Essence

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Sometimes in life we feel pressured to do something or make certain decisions quickly, whether the pressure comes from others or ourselves.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Many times, what needs to be done may not be immediately clear, and that’s okay. Better to take the time to think over what you should do, pray on it, consult others, do research, and so on, rather than hastily rushing into short-sighted action that may make the situation no better — or possibly even worse.

I’ve found this to be true often, and was reminded of it this weekend by a Tweet from writer Joanne Fedler:

She is so right. Procrastination has gotten such a bad rap; people feel like it’s a waste of time or a sign of laziness. But that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes it really is the best way to give your deeper intelligence time to give you the answer you need, or for divine guidance to be sent to you in order to make the best decision for whatever situation you’re facing.

So I encourage you today, and on an ongoing basis, to allow some time to elapse when you’re facing a crossroads or dilemma whenever possible.

Like let’s say you need to choose a treatment for a medical condition: take some time to think it all over without being rushed by a doctor or anyone else — I mean, as long as it’s feasibly possible! So if you’re in desperate need of a blood transfusion, that may not be the time to say, “Let me think about this for a few days!” 🙂 But in many medical situations, taking a few days to put serious thought into your situation is more than okay, and actually should be encouraged.

Or if you’ve been given a job offer that sounds good, still take a day or so to see if it is truly the right step for you — and whether you have peace about it. In other words, take a moment to see how you feel about making that move; not just what you think about it, or what others would say or think about it. And keep in mind that no decent, reputable employer should be offended or inclined to retract an offer if you ask for time to think things over, so don’t let that fear cause you to say yes on the spot. If anything, an employer who would react that way is probably not one you’d want to work for, anyway.

In other words, the old saying that time is of the essence may be true in some cases, but not all — in fact, many situations warrant slowing down to be sure you’re taking the right step in the present moment.

Time isn’t always of the essence.

Note: This post was created as part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday (SOCS) organized by LindaGHill (and featuring the new SOCS badge designed by Doobster of the Mindful Digressions blog). This week’s SOCS prompt was “time.”

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! 🙂  

Getting Sidetracked

I’ve always had a problem with getting sidetracked from things I need to do, and I’ve been trying to combat it for years.

I still remember one early attempt I made to overcome this tendency.

Years ago, in college, I used a designated notebook to not only keep track of class assignments but also all of my personal errands and responsibilities. But I kept listing tasks and then not getting around to them; as time passed, most of these items became more and more urgent.

One day, frustrated with myself, I planned out my schedule down to the minute in an attempt to fit in all my long-overdue responsibilities.

I no longer have it, but I remember it well (you’ll see why in a moment) and it looked something like this:

  • 7:00 am — wake up
  • 7:05 am — eat breakfast
  • 7:20 am — finish all previous readings for English class, including extra credit assignment
  • 8:20 am — shower
  • 8:35 am — get dressed
  • 8:45 am — leave for work (bring campus library book, paycheck and pants to return with receipt!)
  • 8:55 am — stop at bank on way to train and deposit paycheck
  • 9:05 am — buy more subway tokens before boarding train
  • 9:35 am — get off train; stop to return pants on way to office
  • 10:00 am to 12:00 pm — work my shift
  • 12:05 pm — leave work for class; pick up contact lens cleaner at drugstore on way to subway
  • 12:15 pm — take train to school; while walking to classroom building after, call dentist to make appointment
  • 12:45 pm to 2:00 pm — English class
  • 2:00 pm to 2:35 pm — lunch
  • 2:40 pm to 3:55 pm — study in library for astronomy test; return late book and pay overdue fees
  • 4:00 pm to 5:15 pm — astronomy class; afterwards, sign up for Thursday’s study group

You get the idea. While many people make to-do lists, I doubt many of them (especially college students) make one as detailed as mine. I laid out my day in a way that really was overkill. Even I recognize that now.

But the worst part? I had scrawled this across the top of that day’s entry:

DO NOT DEVIATE FROM SCHEDULE!

That is literally what I wrote, word for word — big, bold letters and all.

See, I knew myself and my ability to get easily sidetracked, so I wanted to make sure that my major responsibilities and the odd little chores I had been postponing for too long would get done.

My goal with this in-depth schedule and DO NOT DEVIATE command to myself was that maybe, just maybe, I could fit it all into one day — hectic though it would be — and just get it all done. Finally scratch all of those pending tasks off my list. Finally make up for all the times I’d let myself get sidetracked, leaving these things to “another day” — well, today was going to be that day!

Why do I remember all this so well? For two reasons, really. First of all, I actually don’t think I got to everything on my actual list. I don’t recall the details now, but I do remember feeling sheepish about having my militaristic plan fail just as easily as my previous, well-mannered to-do lists had.

But, most importantly, I remember this list because some time later, my best friend happened to see it in my notebook one day while we were having lunch on campus.

“What is this? Do not deviate from schedule?! Oh my God!” she roared with laughter.

And then proceeded to read it to everyone else who was eating with us in the dining hall.

“Do not deviate” was quite the hit at lunch that day, let me tell you. And no amount of explaining on my part could lessen everyone’s response.

I was embarrassed at the time, but now find it to be a funny story — and we still laugh about it whenever it comes up.

So I guess my point with all of this is…hmm, I actually think I’ve gotten a little sidetracked with my own story here! See, I told you I had a problem! My point was…OH! Yes. I got it now.

My point is, I used to try to outsmart my tendency to get easily sidetracked. Now, though, I try to accept it for what it is. Even though I’ll still feel guilty about it (but am working on that, too) I remind myself that the major stuff will get done; as for the intermediate-level things, I’ll get to it when I get to it.

Deviation allowed.

Note: This post was based on the writing prompt “side” as part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday organized by LindaGHill. We were allowed to use the word on its own or we could add it to the start or end of a word; I liked that flexibility and when “sidetracked” came to me, I decided to go with it!

Getting Out — the Right Way

I’ve become an expert at “getting out.”

When I’ve held jobs in negative work environments — I got out.

When I’ve been in relationships that weren’t right for me — I got out.

When I’ve had friendships that turned out to be one-sided or unfulfilling — I got out.

When I’ve been asked to a social event or other kind of optional obligation that I either didn’t have the time or money for, or wasn’t interested in — I got out of it.

I hope these examples don’t make me sound like someone who jumps ship constantly — that’s not me. For instance, I’ve held most of my jobs for years at a time; I have a circle of friends I’ve been close to for over a decade; and I do go out! It’s just that now I know what kinds of jobs, people and social situations I prefer — and which I don’t.

It’s all a function of getting to know myself and read situations and people better than I used to when I was younger. I’m in my thirties now and no longer feel compelled to join in on events or pursue professional paths that others flock to, if I know they’re not a match for me and my values. Same goes for the people I spend time with.

So I’m an advocate of “getting out” whenever the situation calls for it.

I do believe, though, that it should be done after much thought, and with consideration and compassion. That means:

  • If I’m in a job I hate, I usually stick it out for a while to be sure I’m not being premature in my decision to leave. When I do resign, I give the proper amount of notice (in some cases, even more than the standard two weeks) and do the work that is expected of me until my very last day; in other words, I won’t leave them in the lurch or slack off just because I know I’ll be out of there soon enough. That’s just not right.
  • If I find that someone’s not as good a friend as I’d thought, I again wait it out to be sure, and then I either talk to the person about my feelings or recognize when we’re just fundamentally incompatible. For example: if a close friend has done something to hurt me, it should be aired out to clear up any misunderstandings. Or, if the person is someone I don’t view as a good friend but they’ve begun seeing me as one, that’s not fair to them either — this has happened to me with some co-workers, and I had to eventually distance myself from them. I didn’t feel right having them believe I was a close friend, when I knew we were too fundamentally different to be close outside of work. I’ve applied the same principles to relationships — either talk it out, or end it if you know things are not right.
  • If I’m invited to an event I know I’m not interested in, or can’t afford time-wise or financially, I tell the person as soon as possible. I won’t say I’m attending and then be a no-show. Even if I’m sick, as happened one New Year’s Eve when my friends and I had plans to go out to a lounge but I had a case of food poisoning; I told them as soon as it happened and paid my friend for my ticket, despite his compassionate offer to cover it.

Ultimately, my point is, if you’re in bad situation for you? Get out — just do it the right way.

Note: This post was created as part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday, organized by LindaGHill; this week’s writing prompt was “getting away, or getting out.” Checks out the links above to find out more about it!

What I’d Really Like to Say in the Body of a Cover Letter for a Job!

Writing the body of a letter is always hard for me, particularly since most letters I write today are formal; actually, most letters I’ve written have been cover letters as part of job applications. (I mean, who really writes letters anymore otherwise, right? Sad but true.)

Although I’ve held decent jobs over the years, I’ve always felt that the process of being hired for them has been unnecessarily complicated. That’s why cover letters are hard for me. I know that social convention requires that I say certain things and omit others, yet sometimes I want to write something completely different — but for the sake of being professional, I don’t.

But I figure now is my chance to get years’ worth of frustration off my chest, particularly regarding the times I’ve written to employers who are less than courteous. So, here’s what I’d have liked the body of my cover letter to have said in those cases instead:

Dear Prospective Employer,

I’m writing to apply for the (insert job title here) opening as posted on your website.

I know I could, and should, use this letter to further demonstrate my skills and expertise — but I hate doing that. Most of it is all on my resume that’s included here, plus I know all of that info will be asked for all over again on the web-based employment application that’s also required to be considered. I hate typing that info in for every job I apply to, so I definitely don’t want to bore myself (and you) with expanded, yet similar, details a third time in this letter. Besides, that would take time away from me Googling random info you ask for on your application, like my high school’s exact address and phone number. I always mean to store those details somewhere but somehow never do. This is why I love Al Gore for inventing the Internet.

But I digress. What I’d rather use this letter for is to tell you what I think of the job opening you’ve announced and why I’m applying to it anyway. You wrote that you’re looking for a conscientious, motivated employee — that’s me. You wrote you need someone who can (list specific job functions here). As you can see from my work experience, I’ve already done that, and more. You also mention this employee needs to be open to regularly working evenings and weekends in addition to standard business hours. This is less than ideal, but I know I’m not allowed to ever say that or even think it. It’s not that I’m not a hard worker or willing to work late sometimes, it’s just that once it becomes a frequent thing it kind of ruins my efforts to keep  up with my laundry or shop for groceries. Oh wait, I forgot — I can do all that by cutting back on my sleep and fun. Silly me, expecting eight hours of sleep a night and maybe some free time for playing the latest Professor Layton release for my Nintendo 3DS. (Yes, I do still play select video games sometimes. Why can’t I admit that? I swear I read a lot of books, too.)

Apparently, I’m supposed to want to sign my life away for a job that will likely underpay me and micromanage my work, despite the fact that I’m a mature professional who went to graduate school in an attempt to better my life and be able to use some discretion in my day-to-day tasks. I suppose this is why some people dream of going into business for themselves; I’d like to also, but I know I shouldn’t say that either or you won’t hire me since I might be a flight risk.

My point is, I’m applying to your opening because I know I have the skills and traits you’re looking for, and, to put it simply, I need the job. That doesn’t mean it has to be my passion in life, or even fun for me — just something I moderately like and am capable of doing well for you so I can bring in an income and pay my bills.

That means I would appreciate hearing back regarding my application, as opposed to the all-too-common scenario of applying and getting no response. Not even a “thanks, but no thanks.” Sure, I know you’re busy and get tons of applications; I do get that. I’ve hired employees before and know what goes into it. But I always made sure to at least send something to the people who took the time to consider the job I was looking to fill and went out of their way to jump through hoops to apply for it.

I won’t mind a standard rejection email; what I do mind is spending a couple of hours tailoring a letter to you, completing your detailed web application, submitting the required references list and contacting those reference sources to foolishly/optimistically inform them they may hear from you (it’s only right to give them a heads up) — and then getting nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds as my “response.” Considering that I am also applying to jobs other than yours (yes, I shouldn’t have to pretend you’re my one-and-only), it’s very demoralizing to not hear back from multiple employers.

I’ve heard it said that no response is a response — but am I crazy to think that’s just too rude to be acceptable, especially when it involves something important like a job application? I’m not sure when it became okay to ignore people in this way; I mean, if I called you or came into your office, you couldn’t pretend you don’t hear me talking to you, could you? (Don’t worry, I won’t call or come by — your job announcement makes it very clear that’s not welcome.) So why is it okay to ignore me when I email you in response to you putting it out there you have a position you need to fill? That’s like me starting a knock-knock joke with someone, but when they answer with the requisite “Who’s there?” I say “SHUT UP! I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!”

OK, maybe it’s not exactly like that — since you don’t bother to say anything to me in response. But that’s how the silence feels. Like the ultimate bait-and-switch. “We want someone with all the skills, interests, experiences and knowledge you have who is willing to devote most of their time to us and can also complete steps x, y and z. If that’s you, contact us! Oh, that is you? And you and you and you and….? Eh, screw all of you, except for maybe three of you who will be contacted for an interview.” And who knows if the two interviewees that you don’t hire will even hear back after that.

I know as an employee you’ll pay me, not the other way around, so that makes you feel you have the upper hand. Sadly, especially in today’s economy, you usually do; but that doesn’t negate the fact that your employees perform hours and hours of work for you which will, in turn, bring money in to your operation by allowing it to run successfully. So could you at least acknowledge and appreciate the fact that I’m offering to fill that role for you? I know out of all the applicants you’ll hear from, especially those with qualifications similar to mine, that I may not stand out. But just tell me. That’s all I ask. Especially considering the fact that you didn’t even list many benefits for the employee in your ad — not even the salary you intend to pay! — yet in good faith, and in need, I applied anyway. Think you could at least say something in response? Given the extreme imbalance here, I don’t think that’s asking too much.

I didn’t mean to go on for so long about wanting to hear back. I know I’m not supposed to expect or admit that either. I’m supposed to divulge personal details to you about my background, passions and goals but be okay with being contacted only at your whim. I apologize for sharing my true feelings about this, but I have to break it to you — I’m a human. With feelings. Not just a prospective employee robot that has no pressing needs and can mass-produce job applications in seconds like an emotionless automaton. (Why does your application even ask me to fill out that verifier to prove I’m not a bot? It seems to me like that’s what you’re actually looking for.)

So I just couldn’t write one more letter begging for a job without stating some of my needs as a person. I don’t think that’s so unreasonable; I have grad school loans I took on to get the qualifications for your job (yet have been disillusioned to find that my education is rarely ever utilized regularly in these positions that supposedly require it, but that’s a whole other letter), so if you’re not going to hire me, the least you can do is tell me. It might make me feel a bit better when my next loan bill comes in and I have to scrape together the funds to pay it. Maybe as I resort to selling some of my stuff online to make ends meet I can take a quick break to read your rejection email and think, “Well at least they got my application,” as opposed to wondering if maybe it never even made it to you or that perhaps I’m invisible.

In closing, please take a look at my resume and consider me for your job. I know, and I’m pretty sure you know, that I can do it — and do it well. But if I’m not a match for you for whatever reason, I’d still appreciate hearing from you. I’m an adult and so are you; we can both take it.

I know a rant cover letter like that would not get me a job. But it was satisfying to write here —  so thank you, LindaGHill, for choosing the word “body” as this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt. Now the chip on my shoulder is a bit smaller and lighter!