Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Negative Thinking

Several members of my family see a doctor specializing in alternative medicine. He listens very closely to people when they describe themselves and their symptoms. You think that he is just making conversation, but he is diagnosing you by the language you use. My grandmother, for instance, described her loss of memory. She could have said, "I’ve been slipping a bit lately and it concerns me." Instead, she said, "It may just be a case of my own stupidity, but I want you to check." The doctor picked up on the word "stupidity" and realized that she was very hard on herself when he probed for particular instances of memory lapse. He explained to her that this negative dialog, which is usually silent and internal, causes a physiological response that is very detrimental to your health. Conversely, positive dialog has a good effect on your body. However, the negative word responses last much longer than positive ones. It isn’t just about negative thoughts and emotions; it is actually about vocabulary. Also, saying them aloud evokes a stronger response. Remember THAT next time you think about dropping an F-bomb on someone!

A friend of mine often tells her young child, "use your words." I never realized how skillful use of words could safeguard your health. Choose your words carefully.

A Little Nice Goes A Long Way

My coworker came into my office once expressing concern for a tornado that had hit a remote town in our part of the county. She worried, "I hope Jim’s son is okay." I did not know a Jim. She thought it was very rude of me not to know that "Jim" was the name of our UPS delivery person who we saw on a daily basis. It had never occurred to me to learn the man’s name; I just smile politely, and sign for packages so as not to delay his progress. I expressed surprise that she knew not only the man’s name, but also his son. She said that she had never met his son, did not know Jim outside of work, but at some point in the distant past, she remembered a mention of a son who lived in that tiny town 60 miles away. It was quite impossible for her to work and so she lingered near the mailroom on the watch for the UPS man, her vigil for the man’s son’s well-being had been her foremost concern since first she heard the weather report. All this angst for a man she had never met, and yet it was nothing to her that corporate was breathing down our necks, expecting results, checking in our progress on a pressing matter for which we were drawing wages. We definitely have a different style of prioritizing. I had often said that while she had no place in our line of work, she would make a brilliant door greeter at Walmart. I am convinced that within 6 months she would know every customer, their employer, and their family lineage.

As bewildered as I was by the unnecessary gesture, I did learn that while the UPS man did like to be free to go on his way after delivering our shipment, he also appreciated the fact that I learned and used his name. I think we got better service, and got moved to an earlier slot on the route as a result of being shown extraordinary personal interest. It worked on the FedEx guy too when our company switched services. Delivery people also like to be offered bottled water on hot days.

Why Complicate A Simple Life?

Some of the best advice I ever received regarding marriage came at a religious convention that I attended where the audience was encouraged to lead a simple life, being content with the necessities of life: food, shelter, and clothing. They interviewed a young married couple who was working hard to acquire all of the things that their parents had: a nice home, big TV, new vehicles, etc. To them, these material things would secure and define their newly formed family unit. But after feeling the burden of these pursuits and going into heavy debt, they realized that it had taken their parents 40 years to accumulate all of those things. It really is unreasonable to think that in 6 months to a year, you could accomplish the same feat. My husband and I took this to heart and have lived with the same 13" color television set for 13 years before upgrading to the 27" flat screen—which we paid for in cash. Taking the focus off of things has allowed us to focus on our relationship. We attribute the whole success of our marriage to this lesson. I can’t recall a single argument about money.

Our society in general bombards us with the message that more is more, and more is never enough. The whole world is chasing after what they can never secure. Lesson learned: Less is more. Living simply means living happily.

Job Hunting in a Down Economy

The failing economy has really hurt folks in my part of the world. Everything costs a little more than it used to and the unemployment rate of 10% really hit home when I was let go from my job in May. Thankfully, my husband and I live a very simple life, so we are able to survive on his minimum wage job and the little bit I get from unemployment insurance benefits. When the weather turns cold though, I’m going to be desperate for a job to cover the higher utilities. So, this summer I have been aggressively searching for work. Having had an opportunity at my former employment to advance my career to the level of Executive Administrative Assistant, I was eager to look for work. I immediately got a lead for an opening at the State college for which I immediately applied. A few weeks later I received a rejection letter. It was a disappointment, but I still had many prospects. I applied for a position with the city and with the sheriff’s office, but was not even considered worthy of an interview.

The merciful thing in all of this is that most employers want you to apply online, where you are met with a civil greeting thanking you for interest in their company. However, I suspect that most employers in this city are using this method to keep serious applicants at a distance while they hire in their nieces and nephews. Other employers are asking that applicants arrive in person to deliver their resume. Unfortunately, by the time you get there with your smiling face, the staff has already been inundated with 500 applicants in three days! So exhausted was the receptionist at the city that she had abandoned her desk. What greeted applicants was a sign pointing to blank application forms instructing completed applications be placed face-down in a basket. I stood around hoping to catch someone in the hallway to ask how soon they might be scheduling interviews, but no one would allow their eyes to be caught or their ears to hear. Later, I heard that a nearby convenience store had received over 3000 applications after running an ad for a store clerk.

The economy has made employers mean. At my former job, we had many openings for unskilled workers at a minimum wage pay rate. We were filling those openings with people who had routinely made $15/hr. A few months before, we would have considered these applicants to be over-qualified and refused to hire them for fear they would leave too quickly. But when the government started bailing out banks and car companies, things changed. Those CDL drivers, construction workers, and professionals alike were happy to take menial jobs. And while some of us did leave for better jobs, most of them stayed and we built a stellar workforce. I’ve also noticed that the descriptions in the job listings don’t say "willing to train" anymore. Employers are holding out longer, waiting for a person who already has the exact qualifications and skills they want. Worse than that, employers are treating their current employees as those who could easily be replaced by someone even better! Because people are fearful, they are accepting abuses they would not have tolerated before.

Yesterday I secured an interview with a CEO looking to hire an assistant. We seemed to have a good rupore and similar business sense. It went so well, I thought there was a very good chance that I might be offered the job on the spot. But suddenly, the interview ended with him saying that he had many other applicants to consider in the days ahead. I think he realized that the probability of finding someone he liked EVEN BETTER might be very high and he didn’t want to settle for me without exploring that posibility. While I understand that perspective, I resent it. It is like refusing to marry the man of your dreams because you might find someone just like him only taller or more slender.

Rejection Letters

It is a courtesy to receive word from an area employer notifying you that you did not secure a job with them. I appreciate knowing one way or another, and the disappointment is light and momentary. Sometimes these letters offer a spark of hope for future openings, or note how long your information will be kept on file.

The worst part for me is not the disappointment. My one insecurity about competing with the women in my field is that I do not have a college education. After applying for a job with the State university, I received a rejection letter. I can see why a college would want their staff to be college-educated, and anticipated that would hurt my chances. So, I was prepared for rejection. The words of the letter themselves were kind and encouraging, but loaded with errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. I can’t help but think that the person who did get the job is probably the writer of this messy letter. I wonder how they have 3rd grade writing skills AFTER going to college. I am tempted to edit the letter with a red pencil and submit it along with my resume for the next job opening they post.

Compulsive Editing

My husband calls me Grammar Girl, a nickname that I relish, imagining that it sounds like that of a superhero. He usually says it when I am being neurotic about someone’s mistake.
Once we were hearing a lecture on how the internet is helping an organization reach a global audience. The animated speaker fired out this announcement, "we’ve developed a world class website to reach scores of people with our message!" Scores? Scores? That many, huh? I snickered a little louder than I expected and embarrassed my husband. I thought it was common knowledge that a score is twenty. (You may have learned The Gettysburg Address in 5th grade: "Four score and seven years ago our forefathers…." Four score and seven years is 87 years.) A company doesn’t pour time and money into a website to reach dozens of people, it’s goal is to reach millions. Why would you stand up in front of an enormous crowd and use words you don’t know how to define? I thought it was ludicrous and had a very difficult time taking the speaker seriously from that point onward.

Some friends were visiting us from Mexico and the man showed me the software with which he creates his web pages. The software and the site itself were fascinating. While browsing through it, I found many little errors in grammar and spelling here and there. So, I asked if he might allow me to edit it. He speaks English very well, but Spanish is his native tongue. With his permission, I started correcting under his watchful eye. About half way through, I realized that he was positively mortified, so I apologized. He insisted, "No, no continue. If it is wrong, please correct it." I assured him that I was only making cosmetic changes, and that the content was still intact. I was afraid that I had overstepped my grounds, but I might as well finish. Finally, he divulged the reason he was so upset. He had paid an American college graduate to edit everything for him and was upset that they had obviously done a poor job. I told him that I would take my good high school education over college any day!

Reality Crushes Ambition

A corporate sales manager made a point to speak with me on one of his visits to our branch. I knew my supervisor had thought of moving me into sales, and this was no doubt a casual, but purposeful investigation into my suitability. He asked me what the company’s best features were, what gave us a competitive edge. I frankly stated that I saw little difference between us and our competitor. He did not believe that I could be in earnest, since I had worked there loyally for over 4 years. He gave me a few examples, but I had little interest in his examples. He could not understand how I could not be impressed by the cited accomplishments and statistics. Desperate for common ground in what was fast becoming an uncomfortable conversation, I searched for agreement. But I could not honestly admit his arguments any substance, disappointed as I was at that point with my employment.

He attempted to approach from another strange angle. He asked me, "what is your most pervasive characteristic, the quality that drives your thoughts and actions most directly?" I looked deep inside myself for a philosophical reply and came up with: "Justice. I want everything to make sense and be right and just. Not equal, but just. I am preoccupied with justice." He had intended to turn my answer into a motive to sell product and services, but justice gave him no mark at which to aim. He was baffled. Baffled that I had stumped him; baffled that someone could be so wholly unlike his ambitious self; baffled that he who prides himself on his powers of persuasion could not convince me. He hinted at how much money there was to be made in sales, but I am satisfied with what my tiny salary provides. He was further baffled. I felt the need to explain my perspective, so I related the tale (told earlier in this blog) about my father who had every skill to build dream homes and would never have one of his own. He pitied my dad because, from his perspective, Dad had given up on his dreams instead of making them reality. The sales coach did not see that a corrupt world that fails to reward people was to blame. Or, more likely, he did see—for the first time—that it isn’t reasonable to shoot for the moon when you’re bound to fall short. Only those with rockets can reach the moon, and only then for a fleeting moment.

He had come to rally my spirits, and instead, allowed me to dash his. I truly believe that a piece of him died that day, right before my eyes. I pity him, for being so defeated by a dose of reality. I think that is the danger in ambition: failure is hardest for the ambitious because they can never be satisfied with less than their fantasy.

Happiness Is An Inside Job

My friend’s wise mother was asked what she wished she had known as a first time bride, something that took her a lifetime to discover. She said, "I married young. I was idealistic, and I expected my husband to bring me happiness. But I was lonely; I was needy. Finally, I learned that happiness is an inside job. If you’re miserable, that is what you’re going to bring to a marriage. If you’re happy, then that is what you’ll bring into a marriage. You have to take full responsibility for your own feelings. Making another person responsible for all of your happiness is too much to expect, even from the most devoted husband."

Most people think that if they can just find a mate, then they will be happy. But that isn’t the way it works. Perhaps that is why more and more people feel that a marriage ceremony is dispensable. If they are already happy, they may reason, "why take another step?" True, marriage does not save rocky relationships. But marriage isn’t about getting happiness. It is about making a commitment to work to maintain a life conducive to one another’s happiness. "In sickness and in health, richer or poorer…"