It’s frequently hard to be healthily self-confident in work, neither obnoxious in talents nor pretending to be humble and failing to be humble. What I wouldn’t give to be that occupationally gorgeous, mentally fit beauty who admonishes her husband over coffee in the morning and then breezes into her office inventing new organizational systems and laughing at everything. Four years have only scraped the surface of being comfortable in administrative work and teaching preparation. My days were more filled with spiritual rampages and licking self-made wounds than uncovering bliss at the desk. Being more successful seems to have a few common themes, and also two outliers. The repetition includes a deep-seated clarity in communication, palpable listening skills, and fearlessness of technology and small mistakes (but aversion to larger, chain-reaction ones). What’s not very typical is taking enough time to detach from the world to glean sanity, and refusing to take mean-sounding criticism personally.
A few examples are in order. First of all, it’s the end of a harrowing day. Boss Person wants you to explain why the project asked for earlier hasn’t been accomplished. He or she then stands in front of your desk in the lobby of your office, and ostracizes every mistake you’ve made since hire. Passing workers avoid Boss Person’s eyes, but look at you to make sure your head hasn’t exploded. How is this remedied? You could swallow the whole thing, and harbor ten million grudges. Or you could do the polite secretary’s “f-off!” and say in a loud and intensely fake sweetness, “I’m sorry, Mr./Mrs. So-and-So. I made sure to do the other twenty-five projects you said you needed by lunch.” I’ve found that neither of these really works for me. Instead, a direct and clear apology for the fact that Boss Person feels that way, and a request to discuss the matter in their office usually works better. Then, in continued calmness your side of the story can be offered. And remember, this person may be dying of cancer or not have a worldview that teaches gratitude and patience. Remain kind and happy.
Listening marches right beside communication. In fact, knowing what you’re talking about (particularly in a busy office) before completing a task always involves really hearing what the project is and what’s needed. I’ve always been the enthusiastic Gen-Y problem-solver (blame it on combat video games without instructions?), without always understanding what the problem is first. It doesn’t help in the long run. Some practices that I’ve adopted for listening skills are learning to multi-task less so that my brain can truly focus, looking into the face of the speaker and not my computer screen, taking rigorous notes, and not feeling dumb about taking rigorous notes. I’m sure it’s more important that the PowerPoint presentation made it to the meeting on time, than I feel silly because I had to ask Cathy to repeat what deadline she said thrice. Notepads, post-it’s, Google task lists, smart phones, and bottoms of take-out menus work well in these situations.
Along with listening and communication, salute a confidence in learning new technology and balanced trial-and-error. The new technology thing is pretty basic, but I didn’t realize that my evening hours spent on someone’s Home Design pinterest board may have been better spent on locating shortcuts in Microsoft Outlook. We in the nine-to-five world cringe at hearing this, but it can make your life much easier in the morning. We’ll tackle the work-life balance section soon. As far as trial-and-error, it’s good to make some small mistakes. They help you learn what works better later. Shouldn’t have shouted out that suggestion to have work mentors, when the meeting just finished covering how thinly stretched management has been? At least you put your voice in there. Printed off the recommendation letter backwards? Well, now you will triple-check all of your print jobs before giving them to people.
The sanity and critique piece I can meld together at this point. As a Christian, my Bible tells me that eating and drinking is as much of a pleasure as working. There’s a pretty hefty emphasis on relationships, and there are only twenty-four hours in the day. I’m sure that somebody somewhere is telling you to give yourself a break, and not drown in a sea of nihilistic occupational death. This could be as simple as turning off a phone or refusing to envision future job projects while your friend asks you about your life. I’ve been most content during the times that I worked hard and occasionally overtime, but not incessantly. What’s your hobby? Draw that giant dragon-lord! Weed the hell (literally) out of that garden! It helps. And as far as the critique goes, take inventory of yourself but don’t lose that beautiful joy. Someone really needs it tomorrow morning in the throes of your company’s Spirit Week.