Category Archives: Work
Can I stay with you a while
‘Cause this road’s been putting miles on my heart, sweetheart…
But one day lightning will strike
And my bark will lose its bite
But don’t give up on me,
From Sweet Annie by Zac Brown Band
An occupational hazard of my job is that the people I see every day are more likely to die than a lot of the rest of the population. Today was a first for me: the first time a resident died since I began working there. It was entirely unexpected. One minute, she was on the phone, and the next, gone.
I love my residents. I love the blind man who sits in the hall and makes silly little comments during bingo or Jeopardy. I love the smart-assed little ladies who make slightly inappropriate jokes when they think no one is listening. I love the old eastern European woman who smiles all day.
Selfishly, I love that I work with a bunch of people who cheer me up and cheer me on. They compliment me on a good hair day, ask about my dad when he is sick, and occasionally tell me I’m doing a good job. Who wouldn’t love that? I love when I have a free handful of minutes and can sit and talk with them. They are good for my soul.
Like most old people, they love to talk. They don’t know it, but they are a constant reminder for me to check my perspective. They remind me to take the time to do the things I love and see the people I love. They remind me to be happy. When I am weary, they are a place to rest.
They also remind me that life is fragile. When my funny Polish lady is missing from morning activities and I stop in and find her weak and resting, sore from a poor, sleepless night, I can’t help but worry a little. Another woman scrunches up her face and looks at me with an odd expression as she pushes a walker that she didn’t need until she had a “small stroke” a couple weeks ago, making my heart break a little.
And then there are those like A, who went so suddenly today. She is my reminder to smile while I still can, and to try to leave a gentle impression.
On a day when I woke up literally questioning how I was going to find the motivation to get through the day, I got a phone call. THE phone call.
I got hired for what is essentially exactly what I could have ever hoped for. As of Monday, I will be the new resident services director for an assisted living community. The job is what I went to school for, with “normal” working hours, better pay, a real chance at advancement in a solid company, paid holidays, good benefits – the only thing they didn’t do to make this job more enticing is promise me lunch with Benedict Cumberbatch.
I received lots of congratulations these last two days on my new job, and that is really cool. Your support in the last 7 months has left me speechless. I feel like I need to send thank-you cards to a whole mess of people who have listened, encouraged, and put up with a frequently crabby me.
One thing that I feels weird is the idea of “deserving” this job. More than a few people told me that I deserve it. I worked for it. I kept at it, and in some ways, I earned it. Hearing that I deserve this job made me uncomfortable because it kind of implied that I was better than someone else, like people don’t all deserve to have this kind of a job.
My friend Allyson is an outstanding woman, with a real gift for words and a humbling heart. She has been generous with her wisdom and counsel over the few years I’ve known her, and her advice this time was to write down some of the things I have learned in the past six months before rushing on to the next thing. Though there is more to be remembered, the first thing that comes to mind is the answer to my discomfort about the “deserving” comments:
I don’t deserve this job because I am any more special than anyone else. I deserve this job because I am like everyone else, and we all deserve it.
Everyone deserves a job that pays them well enough to live independent of charity. People fall on hard times, and I am not saying that there is shame in needing help. But no one should work a full-time job (or several jobs) and still have to rely on food stamps or charities to make it through the month.
Everyone deserves a job that respects their time and family lives. This last job didn’t. Employees were expected to make work the sole priority, and anything else, from sick kids to car wrecks, was a massive inconvenience and cause for retribution. Your wife is in the ER? Not only do you not have insurance to help with the bill, but now your hours are cut for being “unreliable” and missing a shift.
Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. For the next two weeks, I will work full time at my new job and work part-time at the truck stop, training my replacement. Who I am in one job is not any different from who I am in the other, but as a truck stop employee, I am treated like dirt. I’m harassed, cussed out, and insulted by customers on a daily basis, and the response from corporate is that it “comes with the territory.”
Everyone deserves a work environment that does not needlessly endanger their health. At the truck stop, we were not allowed lunch breaks, no matter how long the shift. We were prohibited from sitting at any point in the shift – even when I worked 14 or 15 hour shifts. Sometimes, we were able to eat while working, but more than a few times, I would leave work with most of my lunch uneaten, still in my Avengers lunch box. As a result, my weight loss stopped and I plateaued. Much more worrisome was the horrific change in my legs. The only skinny part on my body is my ankles. They are delightfully small most of the time. When I stand for eight to eleven hours at work, they get massive. More than twice their normal size. If I wasn’t so vain, I would post pictures. My health was starting to tank, and it was closely tied to a job that needlessly required unsafe habits.
I am so excited for my new job. My coworkers (the ones I’ve met) seem pretty great, and I am giddy about it all. A small part of me is frustrated in leaving my truck stop coworkers behind. I don’t like that they are going to continue to be stuck in a place that does not realize that its most valuable asset are its people. It feels selfish to say that I deserve this new job, but really, I do. We all do.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a double Starbucks day, but today is one. In fact, today might be the first double Starbucks day I have had since I resigned from professional ministry. Last night, I worked until 11, and then had to be back at work at 6 a.m., which doesn’t sound all that awful until I factor in the half-hour drive each way, the fact that I am never actually out on time, and still had to eat dinner when I got home and shower when I got up, and, perhaps more significantly, my brain is more likely to misbehave when I’ve not slept well. My first cup was a venti dark roast I picked up on my way in to work. When I got to work, the place was full of customers. Men just standing there, talking about nothing and drinking their coffees. I think I may have grumbled a hello as I stalked through them to get to the office.
I did not feel very pastor-y today. I didn’t want to have to see or interact with people. I didn’t want to listen to anyone’s problems. And for the love of everything holy, I did not have it in me to be gracious to other crabby people.
As a pastor, I should have known better: people seem to know when I feel least pastor-y, and that’s when they demand it.
My first shifter got a running start on pushing my buttons. She refuses to take on any responsibility, but wants to do all the management tasks that make her feel like she has authority. She has been in the store longer than anyone else, so she feels like she can do whatever she wants. She is forever telling me what she thinks I should be doing and is frequently disrespectful, particularly when she has an audience. It wasn’t even 7 a.m. when I was venting in my office, via my cell phone, to my sister.
I needed to be gracious in how I dealt with her. But oh my God, why today? Couldn’t she have waited until tomorrow to be in such a spectacularly awful mood?
I spent more than an hour trying to deal with a vendor whose delivery was every kind of messed up you can imagine: wrong products, wrong quantities, wrong prices. We scanned and counted and crossed things off of lists, and still, we got nowhere. There was no combination of things that got us to the right ending.
I needed to be patient. Of all the days to demand patience, today was hardly the best choice, but there we stood, reviewing stacks of Monster energy drinks and trying to sort out $3000 worth of beverages clogging up the hallway.
As a pastor, I should have known better: the universe knows when I can’t handle one more thing, and that’s when it throws its best curve balls.
My two favorite people to work with are Carol and Abby.* Abby works at the sandwich counter in the store, is barely nineteen, with a pixie face and her dark hair up in twin pom poms that look like Minnie Mouse ears. Last night, we were talking about tattoos, and I told her that the verse written in Hebrew on my right wrist reminds me that no matter what is happening, God’s character is constant. She told me about her tattoos, from the matching bow tattoos she shares with an aunt to the flower on her arm “just because it’s pretty.” Her grandmother, Carol, works on my side of the store. She’s in her mid-fifties, with bottle-blonde hair, pink iridescent lipstick, and a voice that tells you that she has had a wild life. She’s shamelessly herself, chatty, funny, caring, loud, and has the ability to make people feel like they are the light of her world, just by being on the other side of the counter. She’s always talking about her dream of owning a food truck, making good, reasonable food for people in an environment where she can cook, hang out, and live the life she loves. Sometimes, despite the fact that I know she doesn’t have much of an income, she will make a bunch of food and bring dinner for everyone at work just to let us know she cares. I adore her. Last night, I got to work with both Abby and Carol, and it was really great.
When Carol came in today, she looked at me and said “Honey, you look so tired, and a little depressed. Hard day? is everything OK?” I said that I was pretty tired, and that it had been a hard day, but that I was otherwise OK. She asked about how things are going with a guy that I’ve been seeing, and I filled her in on the latest. She was, as usual, glad to hear that things are going well.
“I’ve had a hard day, too,” she finally said. “You know I went to that [lung] specialist today, and that asbestos disease that they talk about on TV? Well, I don’t have that, but it’s almost the same thing. My lungs are all folded up and full of shit and there’s no treatment or anything. I’m gonna get a second opinion, but if it’s this disease, I didn’t do nothing to cause it, but then it’s like, six months and I’m gone.” She wiped under her eye. “Don’t tell nobody. I’m not saying anything until I get a second opinion, and if I talk about it, I’m gonna cry again. So don’t tell nobody, OK?”
Regardless of the work polo I was wearing, I was immediately in “pastor mode” again. I listened, and told her that I wouldn’t talk about it with anyone in the store (given the fact that none of you know her/where I work and names are changed, I figure this isn’t violating her privacy). I was stunned. She has been in and out of emergency rooms for her breathing, and her condition was generally overlooked by the staff at the income-dependent medical clinic that she went to for far too long.
She’s too young. Too nice.
She doesn’t deserve it. I mean, how many people do you know who, when given a six-month sentence, go to work a few hours later and are first concerned about how their raggedy boss is doing?
I’m glad she feels like she can tell me these things. She’s part of my little unofficial mini flock, now that I am in a different kind of ministry. I doubt she thinks of me as her pastor, but she does think of me as a friend, and that’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.
As her friend, I’m devastated, heartbroken. I am so very angry that it is happening to her.
I’m helpless. My years of pastoring taught me well that I cannot fix anything. I can guide, love, teach, pray. but I cannot fix things, and that is the cruelest reality for pastors. Every pastor I know wants to fix things, and not one of us can. I’m reminded, again, by the verse on my arm that God didn’t change from one minute to the next. God is still God, diagnosis or not. No matter how hard that is to comprehend today.
So I do what I can do: I can love. Listen. Grieve. Pray. Be a friend. And drink this tea at Starbucks while I brainstorm how to do those things better.
*Names are changed.
Seventeen years ago, a German film called Lola rennt (Run Lola Run) made its way into American pop culture. Maybe not as successfully as other films that year, but for any foreign language film to make an appearance, it’s pretty outstanding. As a junior in high school who was three years into her German classes, it was kind of exciting. In it, Lola tries to come up with a massive amount of money in a very short time in order to prevent her boyfriend from doing something stupid. It takes her a few tries, and in the magic of cinema, each time she fails, she gets to go back and try again, making a change in hopes of succeeding.
Last Thursday, I needed to listen to something new in order to keep me entertained while I was at the gym. While scrolling through my iPod, I found the soundtrack for the movie. I hadn’t listened to it in probably seven years, but I hit play and let the awful beat of the German techno keep my feet moving on the treadmill. Towards the end of the soundtrack, they included the scream. It’s a masterful scream, shattering and piercing, managing to communicate the most frustrated sentiment without a single word.
That scream is exactly, without equal, the best expression of how I feel about job searching and my current job.
Last week, I had to take over because the other manager went to Hawaii. The whole week long, I felt like I was drowning, having to work with a horribly inefficient series of computer programs, dealing with vendors who aren’t used to me, and working with employees who resent my presence. It felt like the day shift was actively working against me. Last night, the restaurant manager told me that not only was I right, but she and her district manager had noticed how much effort the day shift seemed to be putting into messing things up for me. So I’m trying to put a little more effort into looking for something else.
I hate job searching. I’ve been at it for months. I hate the indignity of spending hours typing all my information into boxes only to get a form email in a few days telling me that they are not interested in interviewing me. It’s wearing me down. It’s making me angry.
This morning, while at Starbucks, I was partway through an application when two men sat in chairs at the table next to me. It became clear pretty quickly that there was an interview/pitch about to happen, and they had no hesitation in using their full volume voices to speak to one another, so I listened.
It was masterful. As someone who feels like a fish out of water in interviews, I tried to pay attention to how they spoke. It was an astounding amount of nothing that was said. No substance at all, if you were to read the dialogue. The information conveyed could have fit in a teaspoon, but the slight flattery, the shallow and vague self-promotion was oozing out of every syllable. By the time they left about an hour later, we were knee-deep in BS. I felt like I needed a shower.
And yet, it was pretty clear that this dance of charm, flattery, and vapid conversation was working. Two very successful professionals with decades of experience, and this seemed to be second nature to them. I don’t think that a lifetime of study could teach me how to do it. I’m too blunt, too honest, not at all charming. If I turned up to an interview or pitch and the other person was as shallow, I would be deflated, lost, and utterly unimpressed.
Is this what works, though? This kind of empty nothingness masquerading as communication is what gets the job done? No wonder I suck at interviews.
I’m not sure that I’m going to try to replicate their peacocking in my own interviews, if I can manage to get some. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I am going to keep at it though, because if I don’t find better work soon, I’m going to need to raise bail money.
Did you know that a person stands on the other side of the counter when you pay for something? Or that your boss is a human?*
Tonight, I was trying to have a decent night at work. I was working with my favorite employee, one who works hard is always cheerful, and makes the time go by faster. I was mostly succeeding. Shortly after she left, though, my night got a lot harder.
I have figured out who some of my regular customers are, and sometimes, we give each other a hard time. Bears Hoodie Guy comes in and I disbelieve his stories. Colorado comes in and I tell him I won’t sell him cigarettes because he said the last one was his last pack. Girlie Drink comes in and gives me crap because the computer still rings up his booze wrong and I have to override it. It’s not mean, but it makes the night go faster.
This guy wasn’t a regular. Just some schmo buying menthol cigarettes (I totally judge people based on their cigarette choice, on top of judging them for smoking). But before we had even gotten that far, he was insulting me. Bashing me for working such a low-brow job. For not being smart enough to do something better with my life. On and on. For seven minutes. Finally, he left, and I could finish up my night.
A night that ended a lot later than it should have, thanks to Smirky McLazyBum, the employee who was taking over for third shift. Because she loathes the idea of me being her boss, she smirks and rolls her eyes at everything I say. She slams things, stomps around, and does everything she can to make it clear that she doesn’t like me. I don’t expect everyone to like me, but I do expect respect, and she doesn’t seem willing to do that. Tonight, she showed up almost 20 minutes late, then gave me crap because she didn’t like me giving her instructions. For bigger reasons than that, she probably won’t last a whole lot longer.
Another regular of mine is a waiter at one of my favorite restaurants, Stone Eagle. He’s a fabulous waiter, and every time he comes in, he’s the same friendly person he is at work, so it’s not really an act. When he went to pay for his stuff, he counted out singles onto the counter, and when I went to pick them up, he apologized for not handing them to me. It’s a matter of etiquette I hadn’t thought of until I worked at a gas station years ago, but one that has stuck with me. At least in the US, handing the money to the cashier is polite. Dropping the bills on the counter for her/him to pick up is rude, but it happens a lot. I told him it was OK, but thanked him for his apology.
Rude customers and petulant employees are nothing new. However, they are the little things that eat away at my joy. I try to ignore them, but some of them hurt. You can’t help but notice when you get stung by someone. I try to focus on the happier encounters, like the ones with my favorite employee or Stone Eagle Waiter. Some days are easier than others. Today, I deserve a medal simply for not punching anyone.
*OK, this might be stretching it… I know some of your bosses, and “human” is generous.