The Way

I'm making some resolutions. Big ones. First, I resolve to stop beating myself up for not getting it right (whatever "it" is). I resolve to stop killing myself trying to be a success, fulfill my potential, and prove I have something to offer the world. I resolve to rest inside and embrace serendipity, chance, surprise, and the joy of discovery. I resolve to stay at peace as much as is within my power. I resolve to refuse (unless God speaks to me) to connect with people who don't like me or who want me to be something I don't want to be. I resolve to refuse to be rushed or feel obligated. I resolve to meet each day open to whatever the Holy Spirit leads me to, and to be grateful for good gifts--even ones that don't come packaged up with a bow on top. I resolve a year of freedom.

I don't know how long my resolve will hold out. It's my plan, my goal. I'm sure I'll fail at times. I'm sure I'll fall back into a mode of defensiveness, fearful sometimes of what others think of me if I don't play the game. I was told last year that I should "say 'Yes' to God," implying that because I wasn't jumping as high as I possibly could, I was thus saying "No." To God. Seriously. I felt like a complete loser in that person's eyes. I thought to myself, "I hope I never encourage someone right into depression."

I'm just done with efforts to put myself somewhere I may not need to be. I'm not saying I won't make attempts to do well and do my best--I always mean to do my best, because I believe that ultimately, I work for the Lord, not for the humans who have titles indicating they are my bosses--but I'm done with being made to feel if I don't do exactly what others feel I should be doing to prove my worth and value, I therefore have none.

A plaque in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle says this: "I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown and he replied, Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of GOD, that shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way."

THAT is my way in 2015, and beyond. Happy New Year to all!

You get what you pay for

I finish my workout at Retro Fitness and go to the front desk to purchase an iced drink. There's no one behind the counter; a potential customer is being given a tour. Fair enough.

Sitting at the counter, though, is one of the staff members. She has an array of papers, an open portfolio, an overstuffed wallet, and an insanely cluttered open purse spread out around her. She had lost the combination to the lock she used on her locker while she exercised. 

Few of the employees of this gym dress as though they care about how they look and, to be fair, few of the patrons care about their appearance, either. It's a gym, after all; we're all getting sweaty and red-faced and stringy-haired. We all look pretty awful, particularly after we've spent an hour on an elliptical or lifting weights.

But it's not unreasonable to expect the staff to look presentable. This young woman, who is very nice,  always looks like she simply rolls out of bed, pulls on her athletic pants and shirt, slaps on a wig, and heads out the door. It's quite possible she sleeps in those clothes. 

She asked me if I needed something, and I told her I wanted a beverage. She said, "I'll get that for you." She then proceeded to continue looking for her lost combination.

I glanced at the clock. I had only five minutes before I had to leave in order to make it home in time to place an important phone call.

A minute passed, then two. Mumbling to herself, the young woman, exemplifying the truth of "what you see is what you get," finally gathered up all of her papers, dropped the wallet into her purse, and walked away.

I left, drinkless. Add to this an aging locker room and bathroom floor that, even though it is clean, appears filthy, and floor space so crowded with equipment that to exit the facility requires action movie dodges and twists. The only reason I stay is it's close to home and so darn cheap and all I want is to use the free weights three times a week.

What should I expect, anyway, for $20 a month? But here's the thing: you can be low-end but still provide a great experience. It doesn't have to be this way. If Retro Fitness simply stayed on top of staff professionalism, changed out the degrading flooring, and removed one or two of the lesser-used machines, it won't be on par with an enormously expensive gym offering out-of-this-world accoutrements, but it could be good for the price. Too bad the management does not think this way.

It's not hard to get a vocabulary

Character glows in the dark. Give yourself a good name.  Ad for Heineken beer

Oh, how I wish I had thought up that quote! It’s an effective double meaning—the quality of a good beer, like human character, shines. Character is highly noticeable, particularly because it seems to be markedly diminished in this day and age. It honestly seems that a majority of people don’t care how they act, as though this is some badge of glorious autonomy—proudly not caring what others think,waving their own flag of independence. (Interesting how they insist they don’t care what other people think of them, but they want to be sure everybody thinks of them as free from concerns of being thought of.)  Let’s just take some small indication of the erosion of character . . . hmmm . . . how about what used to be called cussin’ and swearin’ but is now referred to as expletives, dissing, or (being specific) dropping the f-bomb. 

People who have a command of language can express themselves without expletives, because they know other effective words. To say something is "f-ing great" is not going to convey an event or a moment was "spectacular," "astonishing," "beyond my ability to comprehend what was going on." (Lose "awesome." It's so overused it now means the same thing as "fine.") Drop the f-bomb and you sound crass, which means gross, obtuse, and stupid. Unable to complete a sentence without vulgarity? You're in danger of sounding uneducated and perceived as unmannered. Those who write for television absolutely love to throw around all they can get away with. I had to stop watching a favorite show because every sentence had the word sh** in it. Why? It didn't add to the drama at all. "Son-of-a-b****" is the favorite expletive of TV show writers. It teaches everyone how okay it is to sound like a truck driver (my apologies to truck drivers who know how to speak).

Isn’t anybody bored with it? It’s like celebrities who love to tell us how different and special they are because they are sexually more free than the rest of the universe and, oh yeah, they think the naked body is beautiful, particularly theirs. They think they set themselves apart by saying, “I like to push the envelope.” No kidding—just like everyone around you who also pushes the envelope. Here’s a press release: to really stand out as unique, be a respectful, thoughtful, polite, interesting, non-self-absorbed, quietly charitable person. Who doesn’t cuss or swear or drop bombs. And combs his or her hair for interviews. That would be so different it would be almost unbelievable. Reporters would fall all over themselves trying to get to the bottom of such envelope-pushing behavior. What publicity that would be for a celebrity or two! They would practically glow in the dark. 

So very well said

“Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

“Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction.”

“This is the purest expression of me: to express excellence in the most inclusive, generous, and hospitable way possible.”

                  Danny Meyer, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business

Hospitality is extending favor to guests and strangers, treating them with warmth and generosity. What a concept: to act hospitably toward all. When did we lose this? Why don't we care about being warm, generous people?

Did I miss something?

I guess I'm out of touch, but I always understood a working relationship with my boss to be that I should figure out what the boss wants and do that. In the world of employees and bosses, bosses rule, and the best way to maintain harmony and, if the goal is there, someday become a boss, then the idea is to refrain from being antagonizing, counterproductive, dismissive, and arrogant.

Don't misunderstand--I am fully aware that many bosses make work difficult. "So much of what we call management," said Peter Drucker, "consists in making it difficult for people to work." I've had my share of foolish, obtuse bosses who made my job significantly harder because they didn't know what I did or how I did it. But I did understand that it was essentially my job to please them. 

Someday soon, I hope, I will find an agent for my book Sheer Living Hell: Surviving a Tormenting Work Environment, where I address working with a superior who is evil and often psychopathic. In the meantime though, I'm simply noting that in most cases, we have pretty regular bosses with pretty regular faults. They may have personalities that rub us the wrong way or their knowledge of how we do our jobs may be spotty at best. They may ask us to do things we find ridiculous. Sometimes, they allow us to argue our positions; sometimes they do not, and frustration results. 

But folks, for the most part, when the boss tells you he or she wants to you learn Excel, then by golly, learn Excel. Don't go back to your workstation and decide you are so stinking perfect you don't need to do anything the boss requires. When the boss tells you they want something done in a particular way, don't cry the blues about his or her perfectionism. Just do it the way the boss wants it. (Cry the blues privately with a trusted friend, but get over it.) 

You may know more than your boss. You may have a better grasp on what is needed or necessary. You may believe no one else but the boss cares about some tiny detail. So what? You're not the boss. When you're the boss, you can be as unreasonable and insane as you now find the one for whom you work. What's funny is when you get there and act in what you consider a perfectly reasonable way, you'll find that someone on your staff will consider you a loser. That someone is still an employee, though, and it will be that person's responsibility to discover what it is you want and then do it. 

It's not hard to understand. It's life. It's about acting like a professional.

Emotions at work . . . in so many ways

Remember the last time your flight was canceled and you tried to speak with a gate agent who acted as though she were holding onto secret information about the flight that had to be guarded with her life? Just recalling it can create instant emotion. Can I get some folks in my corner who have spoken with “customer service” agents in a call center who clearly do not grasp the meaning of the job title? You want to rip the phone right out of the wall. And speaking of the phone, I don't even have to ask how you feel about telemarketers who won’t take no for an answer and keep right on reading that script. And these are people you don’t even know!

On the flip side, how about going on an interview, filled with nervousness and that inexplicable dark cloud that tells you, “They won’t like you,” and finding a hiring manager who is kind and has a great sense of humor? You leave feeling like a million bucks, all because someone brought a bit of emotional lightness to the interaction. There’s not a person reading this who hasn’t been a witness to a coworker or acquaintance (or even strangers) being raked over the coals by some superior throwing their authority around like a hammer. You know what happens: sympathy and empathy rise up in you and, if you’re like me, you rise to the person’s defense. I used to work for a university president who could slice and dice her employees into utter self-doubt and despair. She’d end by saying, “That was just direct communication. Don’t attach any emotion to it.” Yeah, right. “I pride myself on being unemotional,” people say, clearly very proud of their pride. While I understand such a personality, my thought is, “Why?” What’s the payoff? 

To be sure, we cannot walk around at work with our hearts on our sleeves, and I’m not suggesting we do. After all, corporate life is about business, not therapy. But if we ignore the fact that all relationships are emotional we will create unnecessary roadblocks. We will not communicate our wishes and expectations effectively. We will not understand why no one cooperates with us, or why people respond with silence or irritation or even hostility. We’ll wonder why our suggestions fall flat. We will create resistance because we are blind to the role and effect of emotions in every interaction. 

There are emotions in the workplace. You know there are. Do you know how to identify them and deal with them skillfully? Because they're not going away.  

Open the door!

Every single time I do a presentation on the importance of professional presence, someone in the audience invariably crosses his or her arms and leans back in the chair, occasionally rolling the eyes. Whenever I have a conversation about the subject with colleagues or acquaintances, there's always a comment along the lines of, "This really doesn't matter." I've heard it a gazillion times. "What matters is the ability of the person, not what he or she looks like," someone will say. "I've worked with all kinds of people, and I can assure you I've never cared how they dressed."  

I have to tell folks again and again that professional presence has nothing to do with how brilliant a person is, how skilled, how talented, how enormously capable he or she may be. It has to do with being in context with one's surroundings. It has to do with how one is perceived. If I had time in most conversations, I'd explain that while one out of ten people with whom we interact might care about how we present ourselves, that one person might be extremely important--someone we need to influence or whose influence we want.

Can anyone seriously tell me they never consider the outward appearance and presentation of people they deal with? If you're a business professional and you're talking with a group of your peers, and one of them has a slight body odor and drops the f-bomb in every other sentence, do you truly not have a thought as to how this person is being perceived? Surely someone in the group will be offended or disgusted, or completely tune out, having decided this is not the kind of person with whom they want to associate. Your colleagues will walk away, most likely wondering why in the world the person can't bathe and wear deodorant and why they can't manage to complete a sentence without being crude and vulgar.

"That's an extreme example," someone might say. Yes, it is, but I use it to highlight the point that everyone judges by appearance or behavior. EVERYONE. If you wear a $1500 suit into a biker bar, there is going to be a judgment from the bartender and the patrons as to what kind of person you are. In the very same way, if you send a thank-you email to another professional and the written response is, "Your welcome," there really are some of us who have the kind of brief internal reaction that occurs when nails are scraped against a chalkboard. If it so happens that you know how to dress professionally but you act like a complete jerk, do you honestly think your behavior should not be considered against your skills and abilities? If you go to a business lunch and the person on the other side of the table practically puts his face into the plate and inhales, are you telling me you have no thought about that at all? Of course you do. People have reactions, even unconscious ones. Guess what? Some people make unfavorable judgments based on what they can see and hear. "Not ready for a promotion." "Insensitive fool." "I'm not talking to him about that habit. I'll just avoid him."

Your appearance, your behavior, and your personality and character strengths present you. Of course we all want to be considered only for our abilities and knowledge, but you can't wear skill. You can't walk around with a "Person of Integrity" sign on your back. You've got to open the door so people want to connect with the things you want them to see. Manage the judgment. Make the open door inviting. Once people are inside, they can see all your good internal qualities, and that's what you're going for.

As much as it is in your power, be exceptional in every aspect of your professional life. All it takes is one person who is impressed with the attention you pay to all the details to give you an opportunity that others, who may be better educated or have more experience, won't receive because they have shut the door.

Such a small effort to be above average

I was sitting at a stoplight yesterday behind two women who seemed to be having a pleasant conversation with the man in the car next to them. It was a beautiful day, and their windows were down. I was listening to the radio, so my windows were up, and I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I wondered if they knew each other and were taking this brief moment chance to catch up.

Then the light turned green, and to my utter astonishment, the woman in the driver's seat gave the man the finger and stepped on the gas. Both women extended an arm out the window with middle fingers prominent as they drove on.

My mouth dropped open. I almost could not move forward, I was so shocked. Then I was really sad, just sad for a culture that is so ready to be bitter and hateful and crude, crude to the core. Ready to start a fight, ready to curse instead of bless, ready to engage in the worst of human emotions. That two beautiful women could drive away with such a vulgar display, probably terrifically proud of themselves, just made me hurt for their ignorance. They don't know they are crowned with glory and honor by a Creator who loves them, so they imitate the only model they know: the snake who keeps them blind to this truth.

Every interaction in the day has opportunity for glory or for dirt. Dirt can be filth and grime, and wallowed in with utter depravity; sometimes it's just average, plain old stuff that I brush up against accidentally in a white shirt, messing up a lovely picture. Glory, on the other hand, is cleansing. Glory is the soft answer when others want to be hard. Glory is patience with an unkind clerk, a rude waitress, a snippy customer service rep. Glory is being able to stay disconnected from the ravings of a vicious boss or a terrorist coworker.

It takes a little more effort to respond with glory than with dirt, because dirt is what we are, and it's easier to follow one's nature. It takes a little effort to do glory, and some people can't do it at all because they have no concept of it whatsoever, much less the capacity for it. But in that moment where one feels instinct coming on like a flood, glory is the pause that changes the course and takes the situation from the average to the above average, and sometimes to the transcendent. When someone tries to start an argument, instead of engaging, glory pauses and, in its highest expression, hears the other person's struggle and speaks to it.

This is so rare. I wished for those two women that they would be pulled from the dirt. May we all consider how little effort it takes to rise to glory.  

Leave as a Blessing or a Thorn

So you've been told your job is eliminated. You've been given an end date. We all know it's usually best to look for work while we still have a job so an out-of-work period on our resume doesn't have to be explained. 

You may be hurt, or angry. Maybe extremely angry. Before you go into a place of bitterness from which it can be enormously difficult to extricate yourself, keep this in mind: this is so common in the corporate world today it's hardly worth mentioning. Organizations lay people off, eliminate jobs, slash workforces with astonishing regularity. It's nothing new. People lose their jobs every day, for good and bad reasons. Managers are told they must reduce their divisions by 10%, even if reducing certain divisions will have a negative impact on the company. Whole departments are deemed unnecessary. Sales fall so precipitously a company has to reduce its employees or face bankruptcy. It is what it is. It's not personal. Actually, that's the problem: it's quite impersonal. The people at the top most often do not care about the people who are losing jobs; they care about the bottom line. 

So keep this in perspective. It happens every day. You are not the first to experience it, even though it may be the first time in your life it has happened. 

The question is: will you leave as a blessing or a thorn? Will you do what's necessary to assist the person who will be rolling in behind you, usually wholly unaware of the personal devastation this event is having on your life? Will you help executives who may have never cared about you clean up a department as you go, or put files in order, or make sure an important client doesn't drop through the cracks? Or will you spread your bitterness around the office like so many little thorns, passively-aggressively dispensing pain and discomfort? Will you say, in essence, "I'll be damned if I'll help them. They certainly aren't helping me." 

I will say it simply here, and I hope you will chew on this and ingest it thoughtfully: it is beyond foolish to leave as a thorn. You shoot yourself in the foot by departing with a stink. Not only does such idiocy jeopardize any sort of recommendation you might need to receive as you search for new employment, it slams the door on the possibility that someone there who may have never noticed your contribution might just notice it now, and remember you. That person may be someone who calls you down the line as circumstances change, or you may need to call them for a favor. Leave as a thorn and no matter how long you have been there and how much people have liked you, they will be glad to see you go on your last day.

In addition, consider your integrity. (That is, if this means something to you. If it does not, read no further.) Do not allow circumstances to compromise your integrity. Do what is right because it is right. If you play silly games of sabotage or refuse to provide your service in your last bit on the job, you are not affecting the people who sliced your position off the map. Those people don't care. They can't see you. You are affecting the people you claim to like, who have worked alongside you, who have to pick up the excrement you have left once you're gone. Is that your plan? To make everyone pay? 

Go somewhere and grieve on your own. Decide to leave as a blessing. Grace always gives. Integrity always does what's right. Be a person of character even when others around you have none. It will benefit you later on--you'll see. 

Go, daddy. I mean it.

GoDaddy is dropping its blog product, and I'm not sorry to see it go. What I am sorry about is that I have been so lazy I didn't drop it before it dropped me. It is cumbersome and inartful and a pain, like its terrible website builder. My husband is a website designer, and has had so many people call him to redesign their site after they tried to do it with GoDaddy's builder, frustrated and angry at how it is billed as so easy but it turns out to be so hard. He often says, "Why GoDaddy, which has such excellent customer service and is known for how responsive it is, persists in creating such awful products is beyond me." I'm grateful for the super service regarding domains and web hosting, but in a world of far easier blog platforms, it is time to move on.

This isn't major revelation or anything. We do so much because it feels harder to change, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it will take so much effort and time and anxiety that we have to weigh whether it will be worth it in the end. I'm also convinced that some people are naturally willing to jump into new scenarios and plans and go for it, because they are fueled by change. People are fond of the platitude that "Nobody likes change," but that's not true. We change things all the time--our hairstyle, our cars, our route to work, the furniture, our choice of food, all kinds of things. I will change my grocery store in a minute if I find one I like better, even if the drive is slightly longer. I used to change my haircut about every six months. I enjoyed seeing how differently I could look. I don't mind changing jobs if I can find one that's more fun or provides increased vacation time. 

What is meant by "nobody likes change" is that we don't all jump at a change in routine. We don't like it when the paper towels in the bathrooms at work are changed, or Trader Joe's stops carrying our favorite snack. We don't want to have to rearrange everything just so we can get at one thing. The truth is, though, that some people don't mind packing up the entire house to move to a new place, and others are ready and willing to start a body transformation with a new exercise program and diet. These things have such a highly desirable end result that change is willingly undertaken. 

Since I have such limited experience with blogging, I do not beat myself up for taking so long to change. Maybe I was supposed to wait, because this platform, PostHaven, needed to come about. I believe in serendipity. It makes change quite enjoyable!