work

What Can I Do For You, My Friend?

socs-badge Love is in the blog

As a child, I often visited my dad at the home improvement store he owned and operated. I liked being there, and I learned a lot from it too; in particular it taught me a lot about dealing with customers.

When customers would come in and approach my dad for help with anything from ordering custom-made blinds or scheduling installation for screens, doors and the like, my dad always greeted them with a comfortable smile, saying something along the lines of, “What can I do for you, my friend?”

The first time that happened, I remember asking him and my mother after if we knew that customer. I still remember being surprised when I was told no, that we didn’t.

“But how come he called him a friend?” I remember asking. It just didn’t make sense to me. Especially since the vibe between my dad and the customer seemed genuinely friendly, like you would be with someone you actually were friends with.

I can’t remember exactly what they said to explain this all to me, but whatever they said must have made sense, because from that time I understood—basically, my dad genuinely liked running his own business and dealing with customers, so he truly was happy to see these people and get to know them and build a working relationship with them, hopefully long-term.

The linear, young side of me found this approach amazing. Now, over the years, I’ve seen business owners and employees do something similar, but this first exposure to a dynamic like this will always stand out in my mind.

Plus I’ve also too often seen some who do the exact opposite and treat customers as people they’re doing a favor for, treating them rudely, or being abrupt and unyielding. Even if they were doing someone a favor, there’s no reason to act like that. (This is a pet peeve of mine, actually!) Besides, these customers are paying for whatever service or product they’re there for!

In those moments, I always think about how my dad treated his customers like friends, and try to do the same in my own line of work. While I have yet to actually call the people who come to me my “friend” — somehow it doesn’t come off as naturally as it did with my dad — I do my best to interact with them with a similarly open, friendly approach.

This isn’t to say that there will never be issues with customers or clients, but if you approach them in this way, I’ve personally found that things can be more easily worked out. Plus it makes whatever work you do more pleasant! I encourage you to try it too — and if you have it in you to actually use the word “friend” in this way, I’d love to hear about it!

Note: this post was created as part of Stream of Conciousness Saturday organized this week by LindaGHill, as well as the Bee as part of Love is in Da Blog; the prompt was “friend” and/or “acquaint.” I thought this was a great prompt; although I didn’t know what to write initially, once this memory popped into my head, the choice was made for me. 🙂 

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Area Man Uses Ebola Excuse to Extend Vacation Days

By SOME KERNELS OF TRUTH Nov. 17, 2014

Idaho Falls, ID — David Allen of Idaho Falls has been formally documented by his employer for lying about being exposed to Ebola and voluntarily going into isolation in his apartment for 21 days. According to his employer, Mason Construction Services, Allen is in fact healthy and was never exposed to the dangerous virus.

“He just wants to have more days off than we provide. I was suspicious of his excuse right away, because last week he tried negotiating for more vacation time but his request wasn’t approved. Then he calls us today with this story, after not traveling anywhere and without any other cases in the state,” said Allen’s supervisor Adam Grant.

David Allen, however, denies his supervisor’s claim.

“I really do need to stay home for 3 weeks to be sure I’m not carrying Ebola; if I end up showing symptoms at work, I’d be exposing everyone there. I’m the kind of responsible employee who wouldn’t do that to my coworkers and supervisors,” Allen said via phone to reporters.

When asked when and how he became exposed to Ebola, Allen can pinpoint the exact moment.

“Well, I’d just gone to pick up my friend from the airport on his return home from a work conference in Washington. As I waited for him, an African-looking guy walked by me; he looked sick and started coughing right in front of me before I could move away. I think that’s enough risk,” said Allen. However, Allen says he has not seen a doctor as of yet, which is why he cannot provide the documentation his employer has asked for.

“I don’t want to see a doctor and have my suspicions documented, because I hear they send people to your house and incinerate all your belongings to prevent the spread of the virus. I have a lot of cool comic books I collect, and also pet mice. I figure I’ll just quarantine myself and see what happens; I’ll go if I get sick, but hopefully I never show symptoms and I can return to work in 3 weeks,” said Allen.

Allen’s coworkers agree with supervisor Adam Grant, saying they don’t believe Allen’s bizarre claims since he has been known to miss work for a variety of unusual reasons.

“I’m not sure if he’s very sickly, a hypochondriac, or just plain lying,” said a coworker of Allen’s at Mason Construction Services who declined to give her name. “Back when swine flu was big in the news, he said he couldn’t come in because he had it. He also once said he had SARS,” she said.

According to another anonymous coworker, Allen’s excuses aren’t always so grand, but they do follow a predictable pattern.

“David does sometimes call out sick with more routine illnesses like just having a cold, but the day before he’ll be talking up a storm about how bad he’s feeling. Whenever he does that, I know he’s planning to be out the next day, and I’m always right,” he said.

Allen says he doesn’t understand what his previous absences have to do with his current voluntary isolation.

“I’m doing this for their safety too. Besides, all of those past absences were valid. And of course I’ll talk about feeling sick before I’m out, because I’m sick! This is ridiculous,” he said.

He then told reporters he had to end the call to get ready for his friend’s birthday dinner, but then quickly clarified that he would not be going out due to his self-imposed quarantine.

“I, uh, meant I’d be joining them over Skype; I have to get ready for it because I do want to look decent when I log on to tell my friend happy birthday. Of course I’m not going out or anything; I, uh, definitely can’t go anywhere for 3 weeks to be safe, which is the whole reason why I can’t go to work,” he said with a nervous laugh.

Note: Yet more fake news, my friends; I can’t stop…! I thought I’d use recent headlines to hopefully give you a laugh. 🙂

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!

Do I Sound Like the Goldilocks of the Job World? (Stream of Consciousness Saturday–“LIKE”)

I like a lot of things, to the point where I sometimes feel it’s held me back in life. By that I mean, my interest in so many subjects and activities has made it hard for me to choose a career path throughout my adult life so far. I’ve often felt paralyzed by the sheer volume of the options out there based on my varied interests.

For example, I like to read. I like writing. I like foreign languages. I like travel (although I can’t afford to do it as much as I’d like). I like exploring issues in health and holistic/alternative medicine. I like learning. I like educating others and working with young people. I like a wide range of music. I like dancing. I like animals. That’s just a sampling, and there are countless subcategories in each of these areas; the list goes on and on.

Although I have been lucky enough to work in jobs that are related to these interests of mine, they’ve turned out to be not quite what I was looking for, so I haven’t wanted to make a long-term career (yet) out of any one of them. By others’ accounts, though, I’ve been moderately successful in my life so far, with a good résumé to show for it. But by my own account? I’ve never been fully satisfied for long by the work I’ve done. Let me illustrate what I mean with some examples:

  • I have worked at various colleges and educational institutions in administrative roles involving hiring employees and enforcing campus policies. I did this for about 12 years but eventually felt like I needed a change; the work was too bureaucratic after a while.
  • I worked at two different medical offices for years, but my role in each involved handling paperwork, billing, insurance claims and more.
  • When I was in college, I worked for a while as a dog-walker and pet-sitter, but the pay was abysmal and the work was not predictable since it varied based on owners’ constantly changing schedules and needs (in which case my pay suffered even more).

My point is, I have always tried to follow my passion as “they” always tell us to, but have still had a hard time making a go of it in a way that is both financially stable and fulfilling to me. When the work was more in line with what I enjoy, I usually had a hard time making ends meet. When the work was more reliable and secure, like my many long-term, full-time jobs, the work was not as personally satisfying; other times, the job wasn’t quite what it was initially described as and the tasks I was hoping to do more of (like writing) turned out to be needed infrequently.

By now I’m worried this post will come off as me being the Goldilocks of the job world. This one is too boring. This one is too intense. But I have to say, I really am a hard worker, and usually stick it out at a job for quite some time before jumping to any conclusions (too long sometimes, in fact). So I’m not one to make rash decisions and be impractical or unappreciative. But I can’t help but feel I do need to pursue work that allows me to use my talents in a way that will not only be enjoyable and significant to me, but helpful to others. The one that is just right for me.

I mean, even Goldilocks eventually found the bed she was looking for, the one that was just right for her. That’s what I want — only, I want it to be mine and to be able to stay in it, and not be chased out by bears the way she was!

All jokes aside, though, my current plan is to take my destiny into my own hands and not look for an employer to do it for me. Maybe that’s what Goldilocks should have done — make a customized bed that was truly her own, not relying on finding it elsewhere. And who knows? Maybe it could have turned into a business for her: Goldilocks’ Custom-Made Furniture.

Note: This post was created as part of the awesome Stream of Consciousness Saturday initiative organized by LindaGHill — this week’s prompt word was “like.” It was a lot of fun to do, since it forced my brain to think of something to write about that I may not have written about otherwise. I also really like how the prompt isn’t too specific, so you really do have a lot of freedom as to where to go with it. I plan to do it again; I encourage you to check out the links above and try doing it too! 

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!