Thursday, November 26, 2009

Working hard might be hardly working

Many moons ago, I wandered into a job interview that was like none I ever had before. The boss was out of town, but his wife's former secretary was working for him (while they were both on a rare vacation together) & she was doing what I would call a pre-interview. But it wasn't a pre-interview: by the time I got home, the offer was on my answering machine.

These were my interview questions:

I see you just got married, congratulations. What was the entree at your reception? My answer: vegetarian lasagna.

Do you have any pets? yes, two cats. What are their names? Barley Corn & Epiphany.

& I am sure these questions/answers were the ones that did it because she later told me so.

I realized early on that this was an office with 'personality conflicts', nothing else explained the personality test I was given. What is funny about these two is they left her with the impression I was a recovering alcoholic (I am not, I suppose I might be an alcoholic but I do not think so, therefore I am certainly not recovering) & vegetarian (which I am also not, we had meat appetizers, but all she asked about was the entree). I am also quite sure these were the impressions she got, because she later told me that as well. Why this got me the job I do not know; 

F**** was not an alcoholic, at least I don't think he was & not a vegetarian-that I am sure about. He was from Brooklyn though & I think the indulgent Southern culture was wearing on him. He was ready for someone driven regardless of the direction I might be headed.   

What she never asked me was if I could be any kind of tree what kind would I be. A Hartford insurance company once asked me this question when I was interviewing for their payroll department. My answer was a willow, so I could hang out near the water & have really cool hair. I have not heard from them since

My boss was 'high strung' (a specialty of mine, I don't know why). He sometimes had trouble with the reality that his name was on the door & mine was not. He was never outwardly angry, but he often paced & practiced his golf swing with an imaginary club in the hallway. I once had to ask him to go home (he came in with pink eye & the rest of the staff said it was him or them). His previous assistant record was 18 months; I worked for him for more than ten years.

The reality is I worked as his assistant for less than four months. At least in technical terms. I moved around a lot. I do not mean I changed offices or even chairs. I would not even use that corporate speak "changed hats". As far as I was & am concerned the job that was my job was the job that needed to be done next. Whatever it was. I once sat in the car next to another consultant sewing a button back on his cuff while he drove to a meeting. This was an appropriate division of the job at hand; I cannot tell left from right & only know NSEW if I can see the sun (or a shadow & know what time it is).

I have a friend from high school, better educated than me by any measure, geographically better placed for real success, better manners, the whole package. & every job she ever got she 1) refused to make coffee because she believed, as a tea-drinker herself, that coffee-making should be done by people who drink the coffee. I once asked her if this included potential clients; should they make their own coffee, too? She did not get it. 2) was chronically late. Or early. But usually late. There was no explaining to her that working an hour past time does not make up for that first 10-20 minutes when the phones are ringing off the walls, everyone is prepping for that early status meeting, etc. She just kept repeating to me she did not see what the big deal was: she could prove she got more work done in the hour after closing than anyone else ever did first thing in the morning. I did once say no-sh*t-sherlock, ANYbody can get more done when they are not being repeatedly interrupted while working on a 15-minute deadline. That is when I realized her ignorance was willful. Flash forward- for many years she has not had a job outside her home & last time I spoke with her she was shocked, SHOCKED when her daughters teachers told her the other homeroom moms did not want to work with her because she 1) cherry-picked only fun assignments & 2) did not respect anyone else's schedule.

I have had more opportunities than most to observe people at their work. For many years that was actually part of my paying-job, watching how things got done, identifying the holes, identifying the traps, identifying the wasted effort. Most people would rather play than work, but not all those that would rather work than play are worth employing. The trick is saying I know this is work, I know it needs be done, I will learn to enjoy it for it's own sake & for the opportunity it gives me to do the things I want to do. That opportunity might be a paycheck, it might be farm-fresh eggs, it might be anything at all. Eventually the work itself just feels good.  & being able to learn that just might be the thing I am most thankful for.  

Happy Thanksgiving.

//an apology to all Southerners who are offended by the slacker implication but compared to the average New Yorker/New Englander, you do relax a lot. I am not saying Northerners could not stand to relax more, I am saying the many of you who are keeping munchkinland hours make some of us think you are just a bit lazy.

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