Workaholic

Where Were All the Single Ladies?

It’s been a while since my last post, and although a lot has happened since moving into the new house it’s mostly variations on a theme. It’s the same DIY theme that seems to be the vein of ore in my life. As I discussed in the last post I’ve had some great examples for how and why to thrive on self-reliance. Over the last year (and especially in the last few months), the thought has turned to “Why the hell don’t I have any role models for this?”

 

One long, enlightened weekend with Ms Annie in Minnie, we actually said at one point that we wished that as young girls we’d had examples of the independent women we’d grow into. How many examples did we have of women who were satisfied with themselves and their lives without it having to center around kids, or a relationship? The key to happiness is following your passion. Marriage and family can be important and fulfilling, but so can a career, hobbies, and friendship.

 
 

As an adult I’ve had more and more examples of women who are happily self-reliant, ambitious, and good people. As a kid, though, I couldn’t think of any major role models I had who fit this model. Certainly none of my aunts or other older immediate family members  qualified. Even though my aunt went back to school to become a successful nurse and did all right after her divorce, a lot of unhealthy things followed. The next closest example was my cousin Teeny, who worked in a large city for a major corporation and was responsible enough to buy her own house and pay off her school debt. Unfortunately, she’s also a raging alcoholic.

 

So while my mom’s family would be best described as an episode of COPS set in backwoods Appalachia, she did end up having two female friends who were great role models for independence, ambition, and happiness. Despite having lots of strong female friends, most of these women were in abusive relationships, had drug/alcohol problems, couldn’t keep their work life together. (Is that a nice way to say it?) She did have other friends who didn’t have these issues, but I never knew them enough to tell you anything about them now. One woman was a lawyer, I guess she’s survived cancer now? Another one was a professor? Clearly you can tell the impact they had on my life.

 
 

That leaves us with her first best friend Steph, and her now best friend Sassy. (You’ll be happy to know that Sassy is the one who taught Lil Pirate and Lil Bro the proper uses of the word “fuck”.)

 
 

Steph is married, has kids my and my brother’s ages, and used to work with my mom. She’s intelligent, hard-working, responsible, and takes good care of her family. If a kid needed a positive influence for their work life, how to make decisions about money, difficult family situations, or life in general Steph was a good person to know. Nobody’s perfect, but she had a significant impact in our lives.

 
 

Sassy is around 7-10 years older than me, and she became besties with my mom when she went back to college. Lil Bro and I were still young and impressionable and Mom had a lot of friends who were young, intelligent, hard-working, and kind. As time went on people moved on to other cities for jobs, sunk into drugs or alcohol, or else just drifted away. There was a short time where Sassy had a boyfriend, but I distinctly remember her breaking up with him because he was an idiot. We never knew if Sassy was usually single because she has a disability, but it turns out that it really doesn’t matter.

She doesn’t have any high-powered job, she’ll never be a supermodel, and she’ll never have kids of her own. Sassy’s financially independent, takes care of her health problem, is a doting aunt to her nieces and nephews, and stands up for herself.

 
 

These are the only two women I knew who weren’t stuck in a relationship because it was abusive or they couldn’t support themselves, didn’t have drug or alcohol problems, had jobs they were good at and were leading to fulfilling careers, and supported their friends, family, and community. Maybe that’s a long list of requirements. It’s also a long list of unhappy trappings if it’s not what you want.

 

And that was it, until I was in my early 20s.

 

I know I’ll be a trailblazer, if that wasn’t how I was born then it’s an old habit now that will be hard to break. I’ve come to terms with the confusion and the difficulty figuring out what was important to me as a younger adult and I know I’m stronger for it. Resisting following the crowd was hard, because even though money, relationships, family were things I wanted, they weren’t what was right for me at the time. Thinking about future versions of Lil Pirates, I always wonder why the message can’t be “Follow your passion” instead of “School, Job, Marriage, Family”.

 
 

This isn’t an issue only for girls, either. Young boys grow up with these examples of what women will or should be, and if we don’t think to treat people as individuals on their own merits, we run into a very unhappy world.

Of course, that’s a lesson that is greater than gender.

Kids learn by bad examples, so this isn’t a lost cause if people aren’t perfect. But if people don’t have any accessible, real-life examples of being happy and successful doing something different, they might not realise they can be strong instead of sinking into following the crowd even if it makes them unhappy.

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Categories: childhood, family, friends, life lessons, reflection, Workaholic | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Cubelife Chronicles: Pirate’s Pro-Tips for Success

It’s just about the time for my annual review so I’ve been reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses lately. Most of what’s kept me afloat through my working life (and through our recently challenging economy) haven’t been a high-powered degree, a blazing intellect, or insider connections; it’s been a few simple things. Whether you’re in school and wondering how you’ll make your way in the world or looking for a change, let me extend these small bits of wisdom.

 

1. Learn a foreign language

I finished university in 2007, my senior paper on the developing perception of self in the Middle Ages, specifically as seen through the treatment of death and violence in the evolving short narrative form.

 

Do you want fries with that?

 

Actually, I had several job offers right away that summer that were at a living wage. In fact, I was getting offered pay premiums. Why? I spoke a foreign language. Yes, these were call center jobs in the suburbs and far from glamorous. However, I didn’t have any insecurity about whether or not I could find or keep a job, even when the economy crashed that fall. Not only that, I could afford to only work ONE job for the first time in my adult life.

Since then, I’ve had a much easier time finding employment and advancing my career simply because I speak at least one foreign language. It doesn’t have to be French or Spanish (although if you have to choose between the two, take French. Trust me.), but you should practice it every day and get to know the cultures where the language is used. New worlds will open up to you, both in your personal and your work life. Speaking a second language is invaluable.

 

Think of all the street art you'll finally understand!

Think of all the street art you’ll finally understand!

 

2. Be able to apply math to the world around you

Everyone groans in school about how useful math really is and scoffs about “when will we ever use this?” We were only half right when we professed that we’d never use algebra in real life, since your boss or a customer is not likely to hand you a quadratic equation to solve. The word problems, though… those are everywhere. Being able to handle basic applied mathematics makes you the person your coworkers go to for insight. Hate your job and want to move? Learn how to solve word problems.

 

If you’re in customer service, even retail, there are so many everyday tasks that require intermediate math skills.

  • Customers trying to work within a budget is an algebra word problem.
  • Trying to figure out how many of something will fit in a certain space is geometry, whether it’s stocking shelves, packing a shipment, or helping a customer choose a product.
  • Registers will break, so it’s good to know how to figure out something correctly on a calculator.
  • When it comes time to your own performance evaluation you should be able to have a rough idea if your metrics are being calculated accurately – are you handling calls or selling items at the rate your company is claiming?

 

My job technically has nothing to do with math. My job is to manage the performance of customer service teams, and our company has reporting teams and tools that give us reporting for us to be able to manage performance. However, being able to take one of the bosses’ problem statements and give them analysis of the metrics has made me near-invaluable. While it might sometimes be frustrating to always be running numbers and explaining the methodology to others, it’s a feather in my cap that helps me stand out and stay valuable.

I couldn’t tell you how helpful it would be if more of the people I’ve worked with throughout my career could do more math, or at least learn the applied math I’m describing. It’s the algebra and geometry we learned in high school basically, not any of the fancy statistics and standard deviation. If there were more people to share these projects with, not only would I have been happier but our projects may have even been more successful and provided greater insight. HELP ME HERE, PEOPLE.

 

3. Travel on your own at least once

I don’t mean disappear in Thailand on your own for three months, although if you want to do that sort of thing go right ahead. Whether it’s a camping trip in the next county or a full-fledged trans-continental or international flight, being able to travel on your own  demands the self-reliance, risk assessment and planning skills that are vital in life. How will you cope with unexpected changes in timeline? Will you be able to entertain yourself? What new things will you learn?

Traveling on your own imparts a kind of self-confidence that is difficult to tear down. Going from Point A to Point B will always have unexpected challenges, from a schedule change to a flat tire, a missed bus, or figuring out exchange rates and navigating new cultural phenomena. In these scenarios you’re forced to problem solve, and sometimes you’ll have to decide whether or not to ask for help and then how to do so.

 

Then if you end up in a job that requires travel you’ll already be at least a little bit prepared. That never hurts.

 

 

Whoops, I should have turned left!

The English need to learn from the French how to riot…

 

Whether it’s drinking with strangers in a new city, negotiating with long-hauling taxi drivers, or suddenly finding oneself in the middle of a riot, you learn what you’re capable of and how you handle difficult situations in strange surroundings. While these aren’t always pleasant stories, being able to say you survived it and learned a valuable lesson goes a long way towards knowing you can handle anything. You learn what you didn’t know in a visceral way.

 

4. Have a hobby that involves teamwork and deadlines

This comes straight from my own list of weaknesses. Often in high school and university I would either go off on my own and finish a project because I didn’t want to “deal with” people who weren’t as sharp with the subject, or else I took charge and did the whole thing on my own because the team didn’t know the material as well. As a result I’ve learned to do and enjoy a lot of things on my own; however, it’s been a bit of a struggle to work in team environments and, yes, deal with helping the team learn the parts that I know better than they do.

As such I’m not good with deadlines, either. When it was just myself I didn’t mind taking a lower grade because things were late, and I didn’t learn enough of the self discipline to complete tasks before they’re due and give others time to collaborate. Teachers would always say that not doing your work doesn’t fly in the real world and – shock – they’re right! Sometimes I still practice my “coast until the night before” tactic but I wish I didn’t. It’s a tough habit to break, and I wish I’d learned to jump in line with deadlines much earlier in life.

 

Even Spider-Man plays on a team

Even Spider-Man plays on a team

 

There’s more to life than work, and most of these tips will help you find more enjoyment in life. Except maybe the math, unless you’re a nerd like me. We’re capable of more than we know: all it takes is a little bit of risk to grow.

Categories: travel, Workaholic | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Prodigal Cheesehead

Alternate title: American Woman

 

Often, people will say that the point of travelling is to learn how similar the world is – from Bangalore to Berlin to Bumblefuck, Wisconsin. It’s true, people all over the world typically have the same desires and struggles, and getting outside of one’s own backyard is essential to really accepting and understanding the world in which we live. However, past a certain point of globetrotting I came to a profound appreciation of America’s differences and even developed a preference for my own backyard.

 

This was never the case in my early youth. As long as I can remember, I dreamed of Spain where my grandparents had lived. I dreamed of the Philippines and the jungle, of Korea, of Turkey – the places my family had lived in the military. My grandmother collected souvenir spoons and I would marvel at the display, asking her if she really had visited every state stamped or painted onto the spoon. It was impossible to believe that one person could see so many places but still be my grandma from Chicago! This became my dream.

 

Early on I learned foreign languages. As childhood grew into the painful teenage years and young adulthood, I saw these languages as my ticket to another world. I always imagined life would be fundamentally different somewhere else, even if it wasn’t necessarily better. I would learn to drink coffee and eat strange French food, my love of romantic and medieval literature a buoy in the cultural tempest. I could travel to South America, my missionary’s accent overshadowed by my ability to adapt to new vocabularies and syntax. Gone would be the anguish of not having a family, since I would be thousands of miles away instead of in the same time zone, same state, even the same house. Always, I dreamed.

 

So I traveled. Cross country trips in the US are like visiting a foreign country – sometimes you find you can barely understand locals in Appalachia. It’s not the same as the Deep South, it’s not the same as anywhere. Even Minnesota and Illinois can be starkly different from central Wisconsin. As I made my first forays to France and Canada I reveled in the contrast to home. Being able to thrive (not just survive) in a language other than my mother tongue was thrilling! We discussed literature – from my favorite medieval topics to the great American writers of the 20th century. We all had something in common, even the Hungarian girl whose boyfriend had to translate for her. It felt wild.

 

I fell into the job I have now and travel came. I can be sent abroad for weeks at a time, traipsing through enough European countries to give my bank a heart attack. I love breakfast in Milan, Germany, Portugal; my favorite Thai food is in Sweden. People watching is the best in Amsterdam and Portugal because they’ve got such stunning population diversity. Despite these unique cultural differences the people I worked with all wanted the same things – time off to travel and healthy families; they all had the same hobbies like sports, fashion, reading, and photography; they all voiced the same frustrations with their government about corruption, the economy, fears of pollution and under-funding of public services. Sure, America is very different from Europe when we talk about social policy, but people everywhere want the same basic things.

 

Maybe it’s no surprise the epiphany came when I landed in JFK after spending two weeks in 5 different countries. I found myself ecstatic to land in a place where I had the right currency, inherently understood the local customs, and spoke the language with native fluency and had no worries about my idiomatic proficiency. Normally language barriers don’t phase me – even in Germany I spoke enough to get by in the shops and could understand printed directions well enough. I’ve been speaking French and Spanish since I was a young girl so it’s no sweat to spend my day “getting by”. Even in Lisbon I started to learn the language and now do fine in Portuguese. I get reimbursed for currency exchange fees and EVERYONE takes Visa. I have no fear about potentially embarrassing myself and learning new customs, so what’s the deal?

 

Sometimes it’s all just too much. I have no problem being sent abroad for weeks or months and adapting to new cultures, but all told I really appreciate being home. Charles Darwin said it’s not the most intelligent creatures that survive, but the ones most able to adapt, and I truly have taken that to heart. Even though the work is useful and necessary, it still takes a toll. I like instinctively knowing how to drive, order food, and talk to other people when I’m home in the US. I like knowing what’s popular and relevant, and I like having an idea of what the people around me are experiencing. I’ve been far too empathetic since I was a kid, and either I would be uncomfortable when others were or I would be yearning to learn new ways of living and experiencing the world. Maybe it’s a great thing when you’re a kid, since it drove me to learn and experience new things with little fear and a great deal of excitement. Now, I think I might not have the energy for it anymore.

 

So, yes, the world is a wonderful place full of new experiences and people who often share the same hopes and fears that we do. Get out and experience something different for a while – let it change you and broaden your perspective. Let me know if you don’t grow tired of it after some time and yearn to be home despite all the delicious breakfasts, cool clothes, and fun times you can have in these exotic places.

Categories: getting old, reflection, travel, Workaholic | Tags: , | Leave a comment

My Smartass 15 Year Old Self Wasn’t That Far Off…

Teenagers say crazy things and make terrible decisions, don’t they? With unrealistic expectations of the world and themselves, many are lucky to make it into adulthood with any sense of direction or purpose. I was especially naïve, sheltered from the world and unaware of my own capabilities. Luckily that lack of perspective led me to a pretty wild dream that’s kind of transforming my life as I realize it.

Daydreaming with fellow smartass coworkers one afternoon at the local burger joint, I boasted that I’d speak 7 languages as an adult and be a superstar international businesswoman. French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, German, Chinese, and Portuguese, if you’re curious. Now I’ve always had a knack for languages, but I had no idea it was possible to travel and speak French for a living since my career didn’t even exist in the early days of the internet. There were plenty of things I loved growing up, but as much as I loved math, biology, and the dozen instruments I played in band I couldn’t see myself pursuing any of those as a career. So, I studied French in college and focused on finding a job that would pay the bills until I figured out how to follow my passion of speaking French.

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Fast forward to the present. No, I’m not a mogul, but I work for a European travel company and get to go spend time with our teams in a dozen countries. Fluent in French, I also get by with Spanish and spend more time with Portuguese, German, and Norwegian than I ever imagined. When I went to Italy I was able to read/understand about 80% of the signs, and since we work with the 3 major Nordic countries I’m often sifting through Swedish and Danish right alongside Norwegian. It’s only too bad the Latin I studied in college doesn’t get much opportunity to be used.

That afternoon in 1999 I picked Portuguese on a whim, trying to impress and out-do my friends. This was years before the birth and explosion of Orkut where we realized how many Brazilians there are online! I had no idea I’d spend 3 months living in Portugal.

Faro, Portugal

Faro, Portugal

I tried Arabic in college during Linguistics courses and frankly it’s totally lost on me. I traded French lessons for Russian lessons in college, but the learning was so slow going that my tutor and I gave up. Chinese never happened. It turns out that French has done more for me than I’d ever imagined, and being able to add German and Portuguese to my arsenal have opened more doors than I knew existed. Russian would also be helpful, but if I’m honest I just don’t have the time. For now.

I’ve always said that being able to speak Spanish is what kept me employed throughout school, but being fluent in French is what unlocked my current career path and has been a springboard to my professional success and happiness. Spanish never really grew on me, but relying on it for work is probably what kept that forgotten fire burning. Every time I remember my parents telling me not to study French in school because nobody speaks it, I look at my annual review and the stamps in my passport.

mylifein10years

What other dreams did we have as teens and young adults that could also unlock our passions and drive us to happiness?

Categories: reflection, travel, Workaholic | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Shove Your Friday – the Squeaky Wheel part 1

I have a coworker who’s made me dread the work week more than I’ve ever dreaded going to work before. Not all of us are blessed enough to truly love our jobs, so even though I love coming to work I can appreciate that plenty other people don’t. I’ll try not to get too philosophical here since that leads straight to politics – no good.

Anyway.

I have a coworker who is obsessed with Friday. “Julia” has a special name for the days of the week and celebrates a weekly countdown to Friday. She greets anyone who passes by her desk based on the day’s relation to the weekend. (Thursday is “Friday Eve”, Wednesday is “Pre-Friday Eve” – I’m too busy on Tuesdays to remember what they are).

We’ve been here before.

I understand, if there’s a concert on Friday or you have a 3-day weekend then it’s normal to celebrate. If you’ve had a tough week and have accomplished something it’s natural to look forward to going home for the weekend, too. I could understand if it were a seasonal thing, like around tax time for accountants. I could understand if it were a monthly thing, like when I used to help prepare invoices and chew my nails to the bone to get our shipments out by deadline.

 

This is EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

 

From what I can tell Julia’s been with the company for many years and is good at what she does. Her manager comes down to chat for 10-15 minutes about nothing nearly every day so I can’t imagine there’s anything going wrong.  She’s typically very friendly and helpful – it’s not that I dislike her! Is this just a way to get attention?

It’s a very small thing, but this complaining itself is enough to make me want to go to HR and ask to be transferred to another part of the building, another floor, anywhere. Instead, I will ignore it and be glad that my office hours are much different from everyone else’s and do my best to avoid the constant weekday bashing.

Categories: Workaholic, you gotta be kidding | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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