Real Adult Life

a diligent over-analysis of "adultolescence"

Project Change: Frustrations November 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamiej527 @ 8:46 PM

Another month down.  We sucked up our sales goals.

Co-managers are afraid of getting fired for not hitting our minimum standards.  I understand that the risk of getting put on performance probation is very real.  I understand that losing one’s job is scarier for them–people in their 50’s and 60’s–than for my twenty-something self.

But where’s the practicality it worrying?  In talking about how well we did back in March and April?  In soliloquizing how the company “never used to be this way”?

Move forward.  Strive for improvement.  There’s no point in focusing on the things we can no longer control.

I’m not frustrated because we’re not making goals.  I’m frustrated because my coworkers are so ready to stagnate.

Secondly, I’m frustrated because we’re improving.  Legitimately, measurably improving.  But it’s the subtle, across-the-board improvement that has yet to show up on the company radar.  Rather than miserably  failing  to even approach goals, we’re now just barely missing targets.  Not great, but it counts.

It counts.  We CAN do this.  What surprises me is that my counterparts have a harder time getting on board than my direct reports.


“Destiny” November 29, 2009

Filed under: Life,Musings — jamiej527 @ 4:42 PM
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The Men Who Stare at Goats left something to be desired, but it managed to leave one scene stuck in my head.  This scene suggests that we all have a destiny in the universe, and that trying to do anything you’re not destined to do is like swimming upstream.  When a person stops struggling against their destiny and accepts their preordained path in the universe, everything falls into place and life is no longer a constant struggle.

In college, I was exposed to Catholic theology of vocation.  The basic idea is that God has a plan for us all, and that our lives provide a natural roadmap to this calling.  Rather than looking for an abstract idea that God “puts on the heart,” vocation seekers look to their past and recognize their happiest and most successful moments.  These moments act as a compass, pointing the seeker toward the path God has suited them to fulfill.

Even the critical, secular parts of me are drawn to these ideas.  Absent God, absent a divine concept of “The Universe,” the theories still seem practical.  The basic theory: figure out where your joys and talents intersect, and a fulfilling life will naturally follow.

To use myself as an example, I loved getting good grades because I got a thrill out of hitting predetermined benchmarks.  I loved sports mostly because I loved building camaraderie and being part of a team.  I loved dance and performing arts because I get a natural high from constant improvement in pursuit of perfection.  That is: my greatest thrill has been achieving a goal that my team had worked its asses off to attain.  Is it really a surprise that I love management?

Whether it’s called “destiny” or just a “job that’s a great fit,” I think the idea that some of us get caught swimming upstream is dead-on accurate.  That’s not to say that finding a good fit makes life challenge-free.  That’s not the point.  The point is that everyone has a path (or two, or six) that make them happier and more successful than any other path.  At that point the challenges will be thrilling, not nausea-inducing.

Or, in the immortal words of Garden State: “Do what you love.  Fuck the rest.”


My “Great” Company November 27, 2009

Filed under: Musings,Work — jamiej527 @ 1:26 AM
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I met a former coworker for post-work drinks this week, where we indulged in obligatory company gossip.  We swapped our latest customer “war stories,” caught up with life outside the office, and vented about general company policy.

As we talked, I noticed that my view of our company had changed considerably since moving to my new position.  Like pretty much every company in the country, ours is cutting costs in every possible corner.  The inconsequential cog that I am in the company wheel, I loathe these decisions.  They invariably make life harder for those of us in the branches: we end up fighting to maintain our own credibility while enacting changes that we may or may not agree with.

Working at headquarters places me closer to these decisions.   Our President’s office is a few floors above my desk, I’ve chatted with members of twenty departments at my desk while helping them manage their personal banking, I’ve watched three members of our marketing department walk out like zombies just moments after being laid off.

I expected this new branch to bring greater frustration: eliminated departments and laid-off employees are no longer abstract corporate mandates, they’re decisions that affect the lives of my close acquaintances.  I’ve actually found that I respect my company more than ever before.

That is, my definition of “my company” has shifted its focus.  “My company” no longer refers to executives and the Board.  “My company” refers to the wonderful, talented men and women who work their asses off every day.  When I say “my company” I’m no longer referring to the entity that cuts resources, I’m referring to my coworkers who find ingenious ways to achieve results despite these cuts.

For example, it maddens me that our company’s television commercials are woefully sub-par.  Since moving to headquarters, I now see them and appreciate the volume of exposure our meager 2-person marketing department is able to assemble.  My frustration has melted.  I’ve grown in it’s place an appreciation for the amazing work my coworkers can do despite being stretched thinner than ever before.

As a customer recently commented: the longer you stay at a company, the more you notice its shortcomings.  True, but only half the story.  The longer you stay at a company, the more you begin to value the employees more than the brand.


Inter-Generational Challenges November 21, 2009

Filed under: Life,Musings,Work — jamiej527 @ 12:01 AM

Like all workplaces, mine has one particular challenging coworker.  On Thursday this individual stated that, “as you’ll know if you’ve taken any HR training courses, this new group of young adults is just horrible to work with.” She went on to explain that she dislikes working with me and others like me Gen Y-ers.  That I have usurped a position that I don’t deserve Gen Y-er’s sense of entitlement leads them to take on more responsibility than they are prepared to handle.

Without rehashing details, our 20-minute conversation was incredibly uncomfortable.  I’m proud to say I kept my composure during our chat, speaking from my brain rather than my defenses.

Since the beginning of time, each generation has chastised the next.  The “kids these days!” curmudgeon stereotype grew out of truth.  My hypothesis: we’re raised to uphold particular values and bristle when a large group of people succeeds by flouting these same values.

The best way to work between generations, IMHO, is to interact with each coworker as an individual rather than a member of a subgroup.  But what does one do when she’s already been pegged as a token subgroup member?   I’m stumped.


Project Change: Post 2 November 16, 2009

Filed under: Work — jamiej527 @ 10:58 PM
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Today (Monday) was my first day back in the branch since Tuesday of last week.  I left a branch with slow sales and returned this morning to a branch that had fallen even further behind.  I left the branch on Tuesday feeling discouraged and daunted.  Today, refreshed from my break, I felt more ready to take on the challenge.

I forced myself to focus on the positives, even though they were harder to find.  I crafted my weekly “coaching opportunities” to focus on praising successful changes.  Our communication whiteboard featured the message “Let’s breeze past our goals this month… EASY for a branch this talented!!”  I posted a report that showed only 2 of 10 employees are meeting a given standard, with the names of successful team members highlighted with an arrow and a “WooHOOOO!!”

And we blew our daily goal out of the water.

I’m not scared to be Bad Cop when need be.  And I worry that focusing so much on what people are doing well makes me come off as an easily-manipulated Pollyanna.  My coaching strategy, “You’re so good at A, B, and C!  How can I help you fix D?” comes off as naive to some.

Because I am naive.  Nothing has become so evident since I started this new position.  I think one of the Great Secrets of Adulthood is that calling someone “competent” is really saying “she learns fast enough to keep us from realizing how little she knows.”


Workday Secrets November 15, 2009

Filed under: Work — jamiej527 @ 1:51 AM
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Each Saturday night I browse Postsecret before turning in for the night.  I loved this gem:

postsecret shred

It made me smile.  It also made me ponder my own work-related secrets:

1) My “personal drawer” at work contains several types of tea, lip balm, lotion, and backup hosiery.  It also houses a bright-pink first-grade-style schoolbox containing gel pens and ten Crayola washable markers, a Dunder Mifflin stress ball, five lollipops shaped like flowers, two matchbox cars, and a copy of every award, thank-you, or certificate I’ve earned at my company.  These things simply make me smile.  It also contains five random pieces of Orbit spearmint gum just because they make the drawer smell nice and fresh.

2) The fax number on my business cards is incorrect.  I could fix it, but who cares?  People shouldn’t send surprise faxes anyway.

3) I intentionally get to work earlier than all my coworkers.  This isn’t so much about getting a jump on my workday or making a good impression, but rather because I like twenty minutes to drink my coffee in peace.

4)  I went into this job thinking it would tide me over until I could support myself as a writer, because writing was my greatest joy and talent.  I love becoming a businesswoman more than I ever could love being a writer.  Each day corralling my staff is a greater challenge and more fulfilling creative endeavor than any prose I’ve ever authored.

5) I’ve yet to find even one woman in the business world whom I truly admire.  I’m not sure whether this is telling about my company, the strength of my network, or my personal values.  It’s probably telling of all three.


Tidbits #1 November 14, 2009

Filed under: Musings,Work — jamiej527 @ 1:42 AM
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In my year-and-a-half working a real-person job, I’ve accumulated several tidbits of truth that The Real World keeps hidden.

The first of these?  Inbox arithmetic.  The amount of time spent sorting email grows exponentially with each day spent out of the office.  For example, after being out of the office on from Wednesday through Friday this week, I can plan to spend six times more on email than I would on an ordinary Monday.

Anyone who can explain this phenomenon will become my temporary hero.  Drives. Me. Bonkers.