My director just won a loyalty upgrade. I asked for what I consider to be a major concession, and he immediately said, “Whatever you need.” I am so happy about this that I would probably come over and mow his lawn or paint his house.
What that means in business terms is several things.
One, if he needs me to expedite something, I’m eager for the chance to show my gratitude and I will leap into action.
Two, if he needs me to come in early, stay late, or skip lunch, why sure, I can probably do that.
Three, I’m not planning to go anywhere any time soon. He isn’t going to need to recruit or train my replacement.
I knew I had a good shot at getting a yes, because I took my job right at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown. The whole team had just turned over, and it was a bit chaotic. I’ve had a year to demonstrate that I can get things done remotely. In fact, while I have worked for this organization, I’ve never done it any other way. I don’t even know where my desk is.
I also know that my boss is a future-focused person. He is generally ready to try new things, willing to experiment and shrug off anything that maybe doesn’t pan out.
What an employee will ask for depends on the person. I’ve seen it happen. One person wants a standing desk. Another person wants to start the day at 6:30 AM and leave in the afternoon to beat commute traffic. Someone else wants to job-share with another person who also wants to switch to part-time. Yet another person wants to go back to grad school, someone else needs physical accommodations after surgery, and someone else wants to cut back hours and ease into retirement.
All I wanted was to continue to work from home in another state, so I can help out with some family stuff.
As far as employee requests go, this could have either seemed completely impossible, or come across as a cheap way to earn some brownie points.
In fact, the only effect my request should have is that I took some short lunches and then left early on Friday so I could go to the airport.
Whether this is going to sound like a perfectly acceptable request, or an unbearable imposition, depends a lot on company culture, the makeup of the team, and the attitude of management.
A scarcity-minded boss is naturally suspicious. What is going on?? What are these people trying to pull? How is anything going to get done around here if people are off gallivanting around? What else are they going to ask for? Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile.
An abundance-minded boss will think, Oh good, my team is comfortable coming to me with things. If I wasn’t seen as a reasonable, flexible person, then I wouldn’t be hearing about this. This is a much better situation than someone handing in their notice. Nobody wants that.
A decent human being is still open to the fact that real life proceeds while we are at work just as it does when we clock out. A person who has not been shut down and made callous by rigid structures will think, Of course, anything you need. Let me know if I can help.
The pandemic has shown nearly half of the workforce that we can do our work from almost any location, and in many cases we can be more productive while we do it.
I know of an early-career person who took off for a few months, working out of his van and driving from one campsite to another. That trip seems, if anything, to have enhanced his work ethic and commitment to the mission. It also seems to have had positive ripple effects on morale, as others heard about the trip, realized that they could probably do the same, and that they weren’t going to because they didn’t really want to live in a van that long.
It’s fairly common at my company for people to work late into the evening, and sometimes clock in on weekends, but then log in around 9 am. This arrangement is probably open to me, but the very thought depresses me. A younger version of me definitely would have preferred to sleep in every day and work as late as necessary to make up for it. The more mature me wakes up before 8 am, even on weekends, and might as well roll out of bed and get cracking.
What is it that we want out of work?
I submit that it isn’t any one thing. We can accept particulars such as a strict dress code, long or weird hours, high stress, tight deadlines, and other quirky rules. For instance, I worked for years for a company where nobody was allowed to use a phone with a camera. It was a security thing, and we shrugged it off. Constraints are a part of working.
What we want is to feel appreciated, that our contribution matters in some way. We also want to feel a certain amount of autonomy.
The core tension seems to be about that autonomy.
From one perspective, the requirement seems to be: demonstrate that you are on task by strictly obeying all rules and regulations at all times. Do not deviate.
From another perspective, the question is: if I get all my work done on time and meet or exceed all deadlines and other criteria, then why does anything else matter?
Are you really going to tell me that it is more important for me to wear shoes when I’m on the job than it is for me to go above and beyond on my projects? That you’d rather have total compliance on issues like being physically present, even if it came at the expense of many other things?
There is soon going to be a large-scale Game of Sorting. Some companies are going to insist on returning to 18th-century office procedures as soon as possible. Others are going to read the room and accept the new normal. Then the more traditionally-minded, authoritarian companies are going to find themselves surprised by the stampede for the exits.
I can already guess where my company stands on this issue. How about yours?
“I just thought I should tell you that I’m up to some shenanigans again,” I told my husband. It only seemed fair.
“Oh, what is it this time?”
I told him I had stumbled across a video interview about a homeless woman a few miles from us who happened to have a master’s degree and some interesting engineering, logistics, and mathematics credentials.
I rewound and wrote down those credentials. I can help with this, I thought, and now to track down this person. How do I find her?
Those of you who have known me personally for several years may recall that the last time I got interested in something like this, it ended very poorly, but I was indeed successful in tracking down my target person a couple of times. With concerted effort, you can generally find a specific homeless person, because they have a strong gossip network and they keep track of each other.
This time it was a bit easier. I looked through the comments on the YouTube channel, didn’t find anything, and then emailed the channel owner.
He wrote back within ten minutes, saying he would be seeing her the following week and that he would pass on my message. [That was basically: I think I can get her a job, and please ask if I can bring her a small present, such as a pair of socks or a bottle of ibuprofen].
Several days went by, and I thought, alas, perhaps nothing will come of this after all.
Then I got another email. The YouTube channel owner passed on a GoFundMe link, which he said he had verified, so that the money would go directly to the engineer.
Oh cool! I thought. That is smart thinking.
What would you personally do if you were living at the park and you needed a job?
I know what I would do. I would use my credit card and get a room at an AirBnB, just like we did the last time we were technically houseless. I would call my family and I would call an employment agency. I have tons of resources, such that I would only wind up at a park if there had been a wildfire and I had to flee for my life.
Plausible where we live.
But then, I used to work in social services. I’ve worked at a couple of homeless shelters. I understand that the main difference between “the homeless” and the rest of us is that they tend to get hit with more disasters in a given time period. They always say they never thought it would happen to them, because nobody does.
I also live in a very expensive area. The reason it costs so much to live here is because this is where the jobs are. If you want to be within commuting distance of one of the many engineering firms in the area, then you’d better be prepared to pay. Renting a place is not for the faint of heart. We expect, every time we plan to move, that we may have to call on eight listings for every one that is available to look at. We know we’d better be prepared to make an offer on the spot, because the landlord usually has a couple other people lined up to tour the place after us.
I watched the video and I thought, this woman is a great deal like me. We’re close in age, we’re both White and we even have similar hairstyles. We could probably swap clothes.
Is it unfair that I took an interest in her story? Yes, of course it is.
There are well over half a million homeless people in the US, and nearly seventy thousand in my county. This is a societal decision that we made sometime back in the Eighties, to recognize that a lot of people have nowhere to live, and shrug, and train our children to step over them and go on with our lives. It’s easy for us to blame them for their situation, easy for us to accept the concept that over half a million people are lazy, or that all of them are drug addicts, or whatever it is that we tell ourselves. And our kids.
In this case, I listened with compassion, and I realized - this is one starfish I can probably help. I know that I can get her resume looked at. I have personal influence with HR people and hiring managers and program directors.
I spun out my story to myself a bit more. I thought of a few other women I know who would be in a position to help. I realized, I could help her get a salon haircut and an interview suit. With interviews lined up, it would be easy for me to get her into temporary housing and raise some funds to help her set up shop.
I hadn’t even talked to her yet, and I knew I had a plan. I had a hand-picked action team. If we met, I would make my pitch. Simply take one step forward and you are back in the game. We can do this.
This was all before I saw the GoFundMe link.
Aha, I thought, girl power. Good for you!
When I first saw it, the target amount was $10,000 and she had raised about $3,000 already.
I saw the necessity of it. She had nowhere to live, no furniture, no work wardrobe, no groceries. In our area? Half of that was going to go to first month’s rent and deposits. It could easily take four months of interviewing before she actually started a new job and started collecting a paycheck.
I kept checking back out of curiosity.
The donations poured in. The target amount was increased to $15,000.
Wow, I thought, go girl go!
Donations closed in on $14,000. The target amount was increased to $20,000.
Haha, I thought, excited for her. I showed my husband. “I’m starting to understand that she has a good head for numbers.”
“Now she’s getting greedy,” he said.
“I don’t know about that,” I said, “she literally has nothing. She’s living at the park. What she’s trying to do is step from that back into a profession, into an upper middle class lifestyle.” I reminded him how long it takes to get a good engineering job and how much rent is in our area.
“If I were the hiring manager, I would ask her, can you raise funds for my company the way you raised funds for yourself? It makes me wish I ran my own company so I could interview her myself.”
This is the American way. Rugged individualism in action. It isn’t a personal tragedy, it’s a societal tragedy. We were willing to let a perfectly good mathematician and engineer live at the park, and nobody cared, and all that human potential was wasted because we tolerate long-term homelessness with a shrug. If that much.
Nobody else was going to look out for Number One, so good for her.
I’m still going to reach out to this woman. I’m going to offer to take her to lunch. I’m going to offer to introduce her to my stylist. I’m going to ask for a copy of her resume, and if it’s a little lumpy I’m going to connect her with the person I hired to redo my own resume. If all goes well, I’m going to pass on her materials to my HR person and ask what we can do.
Then I’m going to ask her who else she met while she was... on sabbatical. I’m going to ask who she thinks is the next best prospect, and maybe we can see what we can do for that person.
Not because this person or that person “deserves” my help, but because it intrigues me and it’s something that I have certain powers to influence. It’s also high time we stop having a homelessness problem and instead have a reintegration project.
My hubby and I got our second shots last week. We are, as they say, in like Flynn.
Word is getting out, and people are starting to ask questions of us. We haven’t really gotten our heads around the idea that in another week and a half, we’ll be 94% protected against COVID-19.
Now that we’re in the vaccinated elite, it’s like doors have opened to us and we don’t even know what’s on the other side of those doors yet.
The first thing that happened is that some of our young people have started asking what our rules are for socializing.
The second thing is that our work asked on which exact date my hubby would be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ and thus free to travel again. Business trips.
There you have it. Right back to where we were in 2019, with a social calendar and a variable amount of business travel.
In the meantime, we’ve only just realized that we can go out in public and get PROFESSIONAL HAIRCUTS again.
My hubby needs to renew his passport. I called for him and found that he can get his photo taken 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, right up the street. He mentioned getting a haircut first.
“What, don’t you like my $6-equivalent home haircuts anymore?”
Haha, like I’m offended. The only thing more stressful than giving someone else an amateur haircut is: driving on the freeway. I might be willing to cut a man’s hair again under certain pressing circumstances - not sure what those would be - but it is unlikely that I will be called upon to do this again.
We keep talking about what else we’re going to do, once we’re free to go out and about.
Well, technically we’re free now. I think we could even go to see a movie at the mall. The pool is open at our building again, residents only. The gym next door is allowing people in. Cases are finally dropping in our area and things seem to be going well.
I have done something since we got our shots. I went to the store and bought some fresh raspberries.
I went alone, I wore my mask, I distanced, I was only in the store for ten minutes, the clerk stayed behind his plexiglass barrier, I left. Chances are, these behaviors would have served me just as well before I got my first shot, in the Wild West days.
The difference is that now, I no longer approach transactions like this in a flop sweat, with my hands shaking and my heart racing.
I am what seems to be fairly rare in the US: a true believer that the coronavirus exists and that it wants to kill you. I had COVID, I’ve followed the updates and pre-prints in various research journals, and I understand that I could both get it again and die of it.
A short list of things I would rather have happen than get COVID a second time:
Be audited by the IRS
Be attacked by a coyote
Or a mountain lion
Get a tattoo on my eyeball
Have a tooth pulled without anesthesia
Be hit in the face with a baseball bat
Have food poisoning
I suppose I should match this with a short list of things that I think would be worse than getting COVID again. That would basically be: being trapped in a submarine with the oxygen running out, being dragged underwater by an alligator, or, actually literally dying.
Probably none of those things will happen to me or to anyone I know. I sure hope not. (Except the dying part - can’t do much about that). Probably I won’t get COVID again, either, because I am now paranoid for life. I don’t really have a problem with the idea of wearing a mask in public forever, because so far it has kept me from getting the flu or even the common cold.
Also I don’t have to worry if there’s spinach in my teeth.
What are we going to do, now that we’re in the vaccinated elite?
Probably we will re-enter society gradually, one step at a time.
We do have rules for having people over. Those rules are 1, you must be fully vaccinated, 2, you must show your documentation, and 3, if you bring someone with you who is not fully vaccinated yet, then I will throw a huge fit and shove the whole group of you away from my door with a broom. Because a 10-foot pole won’t fit in my apartment.
Probably we will be expected to return to work soon.
I am not excited about this, because I know that there will be a certain number of vaccine skeptics on staff. I won’t know who they are, and thus I might wind up in a small room with one sitting on either side of me.
Am I paranoid? I am. The Pfizer vaccine that I just got is not protective against the South African strain. How long will it take to produce a booster shot that will include that strain? No idea.
Going in to work as a physical entity, rather than a virtual avatar, means I’m going to have to wear a mask at least ten hours a day. I will probably wind up eating my lunch in the parking lot so that I can feel safe to take off my mask.
I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t feel all that elite yet. I have a piece of information that stresses me out, which is that there is still a deadly and highly contagious strain of a virus circulating out there, and my injection does not protect me against it.
Going to work and being on site 50 hours a week with 3000 people, many of whom travel regularly, is a completely different risk profile than going to the grocery store for ten minutes, or getting a haircut in a private salon with one stylist and a locking door.
In some ways, being a part of the vaccinated elite is great. It’s our best chance to achieve true herd immunity and finally end the pandemic. On the other hand, it’s not perfect, and it creates a certain amount of pressure to get back to business and pretend that everything is normal, when it isn’t yet.
The rest of 2021 promises to be both exciting and super weird.
Have you booked your appointment yet? Or are you already elite like us?
I bought myself a new desk. I realized it was time to take myself a little more seriously.
I’m still in the same 4-foot-square corner of our living room. That part hasn’t changed. We live in a tiny apartment, and if I wanted more space for my desk it was going to mean a major overhaul of our living space.
While I do intend to lean into my job more, I don’t intend for that to come at the expense of the comfort of our downtime.
So if I’m still using the same amount of space as before, what was the point of buying a new desk?
What I had was a make-do desk. A little desk. A desk that, in its cuteness, asked, Please don’t mind me. I’ll just squeeze in right here and try not to be noticed. I had a desk that apologized for the space it took up.
When I bought it, I wanted somewhere for myself, a personal spot where I could stash my papers and occasionally sit to do some writing. We were in yet another tiny apartment, and there just wasn’t room for anything more imposing.
Something that imposed simply by existing.
The tiny apartment was my idea. I didn’t want to build our lifestyle around a long commute to my husband’s job. If we wanted to live close to site, then it followed that we would have a one-bedroom apartment.
We just both assumed that The Desk would go to The Earner. He needed to work from home sometimes, and that required a computer that would run certain software, and that meant a desktop PC, and that meant a certain amount of physical space.
None of these constraints are incorrect by any means.
What it leaves, though, are certain built-in parameters. After the desk, there is square footage available.
Some people work these variables with things like a loft bed, or a desk that folds down from the wall, or they don’t have a dining table or a couch. I’ve even seen someone use his living room for a two-man hammock.
My choices again, but I like having a dining table and a couch and a traditional bed.
It was my choice to buy myself an apology desk.
My little desk was fantastic for its original purpose. I loved how it looked and it could fit almost anywhere. I usually worked at a cafe, and I don’t think I ever sat at the little desk for more than an hour at a time.
That’s why I never noticed that it had terrible ergonomics.
Then I got a full-time job working from home. I thought, look at my little desk paying for itself!
Several months went by. I started feeling very crooked and lumpy.
It was impossible not to notice. My monitor was a few inches too high, but I couldn’t stand and work because the work surface was too low. I was sitting on my foot, trying to prop myself up to optimal height. I could never get comfortable.
The other issue was that I constantly had to swap out components depending on what I was doing. Set up my company laptop whenever I had a meeting, then move it again so I could use my keyboard and work, then swap everything out again an hour later.
I started fantasizing about a different desk, but I didn’t think one would fit in the available space. I wasn’t sure how I would want it to look. I felt too busy to spend all my spare time looking at furniture listings.
I tolerated a bad situation for months.
There are lessons to be learned here. How often do we tolerate situations that other people are not in, just because we feel too tired or burned out to do something different? Because we feel stuck and don’t know exactly what else to do?
Finally I had had enough. What was the point of earning money if not to spend it on life improvements?
This is a lesson I come back to again and again. If a problem can be solved with money, then solve it.
I got out a measuring tape and set to work. My available space was 48 inches across. Since I already had a tiny desk, surely there were other desks larger than that, yet still smaller than the big beasts I was picturing in my mind?
It did take me a couple hours of searching until I found something I liked that was small enough. It was flat, with no riser to prop up my monitor. Since I’m short, this is what I needed. A taller person might want to go the other way, adding a monitor riser or buying a different style to get the right ergonomics.
The desk shipped right away and arrived in the evening, three days later. I built it on my off Friday. It took about an hour to assemble, and two hours of rearranging all my stuff. It had been nearly a year since I built furniture from a kit, and I had forgotten how fun it can be.
The next day, I had a surprising case of delayed-onset muscle soreness from all the crouching and bending and lifting and turning bolts, but it was worth it. I loved how my new desk looked. The moment I sat down and looked at my monitor, I thought, Ahh, yes.
My cute little secretary desk is now crammed into the corner of our dining room. I refuse to let go of it. I still love how it looks, even though it’s so wildly inappropriate for a nine-hour workday. There’s nothing wrong with it as a desk - it’s just not suited to have a computer on it. One day, one day when we’ve moved somewhere else, the little desk will go in our bedroom where I can use it to write in my journal. I can separate my personal life from my work life just a bit more.
One day, having a little desk will no longer be an apology. It will be a way to take up a little more space for myself. I have plenty of work to do and I’m entitled to have somewhere suitable to do it.
I’ve been on the fast track before and I think it’s overrated.
It’s fairly easy to stand out in most endeavors, if you are a person of ambition. Show up to everything, and show up prepared. Pay attention and take notes when someone offers to explain something to you. Make yourself useful. Remember people’s names.
If you have intrinsic motivation - that is, your own personal internal reasons for being there - it will show. That motivation attracts people like a beacon. It doesn’t take long before opportunities start being handed to you every time you turn around. The more you do, the more you’re asked to do, and you start getting increased responsibility.
That’s the fast track.
The trouble with the fast track is that it doesn’t give you time to build relationships or get to know the deep culture of the organization.
That’s why I decided that the next time I took something on, I would do it the slow way.
I had to realize, for my own good, that every time I get involved with something I wind up in a leadership role. Not because I have massive charisma or anything - in fact, probably quite the opposite. The problem is more that when I get involved with something, I start noticing how much work it takes, and I start picking up litter or stacking chairs.
The grunt work is how you meet the real movers and shakers of any organization.
It turns out that it’s nearly impossible to do a lot of service work without getting noticed. If your goal is invisibility, there has to be a different way.
I realized that I don’t know how to be involved in a recreational activity just for the fun and relaxation of it. I don’t know how to just buy a ticket, have a nice time, and go home. I keep finding myself on the cleanup crew. Or, worse, the steering committee.
After finding myself on the board of two separate organizations in a row, I finally had to accept that there was a theme in my behavior. 1. I would get involved in something, 2. I would start volunteering to help run it, 3. It would take over my life until I was doing something org-related every day of the week.
That was when it hit me, if I was going to work rather than play, then I might as well start getting paid for it again...
I took a job.
A paid job!
I sat myself down and said, Self, it’s probably going to happen again. You’re going to do what you always do, which is to get curious and start asking questions. Then things are going to start rolling.
I’ve started to think in the four-year time horizon. If I start throwing myself into a new activity, even if I am truly terrible at it in the beginning, within four years I tend to have a pretty solid grasp of how things work. That seemed completely plausible in a new role at a new company.
I have probably twenty years of career arc ahead of me. A lot can happen in twenty years.
This is, by the way, a very difficult mindset for a twenty-year-old kid to hold. At that age, I would not have had the patience to think, I may be in this role for four years, and that’s okay. Also I couldn’t afford it. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t think in terms of skills or certifications or increasing responsibilities. I thought in terms of my rent taking up over 80% of my income.
Now I have the time and the wherewithal to relax and look around a bit.
There are certifications I could run out and get for myself over a long weekend, or perhaps within six weeks. There are a bunch of things I could cram for in a very short time that I could tack onto my resume. If all I wanted was more money, I could target a search for open roles and start shooting my shot.
This is somewhat of an experiment, but I don’t think that’s actually the fast track. In some ways, I think it’s faster to go slower.
One thing that money cannot buy is reputation.
Reputation is the slow track.
When I was young, I used to wonder why So-and-So got a promotion. Or not really wonder, just hear about it and get mad. Isn’t it obvious that I’m the one who really needs that money! That was an improvement over my original idea, at 18, which was, Isn’t it obvious that I’m the smartest person here??
(If you’re so smart, why aren’t you the one getting the promotion?)
Now, I actually wonder. That is, I ponder over what skills that person has demonstrated, what types of problems they are known to solve, and how they earned their reputation. If A, that person has definable traits that got them a promotion, and B, I can figure out what those traits are, then C, I can work to acquire those promotable traits.
It’s also slightly more complicated than that, in the sense that not every promotion is one we would want.
I’m finally in a place where I can be glad for someone who got promoted, and also realize that I myself would never want that particular job.
Part of the slow track is figuring out how the organization is run, what roles it takes to get everything done, and then where you do and do not see yourself eventually.
For instance, in the space industry, there are a lot of jobs in shifts all around the clock. I sometimes think, I bet someone else absolutely hates working in the middle of the night, but they do it because it needs to get done. I, on the other hand, am a born night owl. Wouldn’t it be nice for everyone if that was my job?
I haven’t been at my current job for a year yet. I’m still figuring out how they do things. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in five years.
That’s okay, though, because on the slow track you can take your time to figure it out. All I need to know is that I like this place well enough that I might still be there in twenty years.
If you’ve been working from home, are you going back in? Is your company expecting people to start coming back into the office?
It’s been reported that one in three professionals who work from home plan to quit if they’re called back into the office. Interesting, right?
We don’t have guidance on this yet. All we know is that we’re working from home through June. That is creeping up on us fairly quickly, on the order of a school term. This is why I think it’s a good idea to plan now.
Do you love what you’re doing or are you just hanging on because this is a scary time to be out of work?
Did you love your commute, or... did you not love your commute?
If you could keep your job and live anywhere in the country (or possibly the world), where would you go? Anywhere? Or just stay put?
If the thought of driving back in makes you break out in hives, what are you going to do about it?
Are you finally going to hire a professional to update your resume and start looking for something new? Are you going to go into business for yourself?
Are you going to use any of your accrued vacation time?
Do you still fit in your work clothes? I know I don’t fit in mine! Goodbye, work pajamas, it’s been lovely...
I’m definitely planning to stay put with my current company. Since my husband and I work for the same employer, even in the same building, it would make sense for us to ride in together.
Would it, though?
We haven’t owned a vehicle in four years. This makes the question more transparent for us than it is for most people. Is this job “worth” a car payment, insurance, maintenance, and all the rest?
There is one advantage to having a daily commute, and that is, if you plan it carefully, you can block off that time to do specific things and get them off your list. My version of this image would be my husband driving while I order grocery delivery, work on my tech newsletter, and process email.
Perhaps that differs from his version? Maybe he doesn’t want to be my chauffeur?
What will probably happen, if we’re both called in to work physically inside the building, which is bonkers and makes no sense, what will probably happen is that I’ll buy an electric bicycle and ride that in.
Why? Three reasons.
In the past I would have planned to take the city bus. Now that there’s COVID, I would only do that if I had some kind of astronaut helmet. It’s not just COVID I’m worried about, it’s the entire category of airborne respiratory infections. I read up on the subject back in 2018 and discovered that bus riders are something like 6x more likely to pick up the common cold. I’m sorry, but after the lung scarring I got from COVID I am simply not interested in even the mildest form of sniffles.
This is the sort of thing that more people should probably be thinking about, but probably are not.
Are you just going to shrug and go back to the same commute you always had? Or are you going to use this opportunity to rethink your default?
Are you going to go back to the same schedule you always had, the one where you never get enough sleep and you never have time to work out and you constantly feel like you’re running to keep up with laundry and chores?
Or are you going to try for something different this time?
Are you going to eat the same eleven things, sometimes skip breakfast or eat lunch over your desk?
Or are you ready to shake that up?
Are you assuming you can wear the same work wardrobe you did a year ago, or are you going to go in there and try stuff on like I did and discover that that isn’t really going to work?
Personally I’m going to shoot for working from home permanently. I don’t see adding a commute to the day as adding any real value. At my work, a number of things that I currently do would be less efficient, or actively impossible, to do in a physical room rather than virtual. I don’t think it would be a hard sell.
Just in case, though, I’m forming a parallel mental track. There’s a future version of myself wearing trousers and actual shoes, walking the halls of a building and trying to be efficient despite the 18th-century issues of the “modern” workplace.
I’d like that future version of myself to be having fun and making money.
If necessary, I’d also like that future version of myself to get a fresh start with fresh new habits. There’s a narrow window of “fresh start” opportunity whenever we make a dramatic change, and I want to take advantage of it.
Am I going in to work? Not sure yet. If I do, I want it to feel like a good idea.
I’m a serial offender. I love doing pranks on April Fool’s Day. This isn’t the first time I’ve pranked people at my work, and I suppose it won’t be the last.
One year, my GM called me in and asked me to do a special April Fool’s Day issue of the company newsletter. I put on the front page that we were relocating to Arkansas. I figured everyone would take one look, snort or possibly guffaw, and say:
“Yeah, right. Good one.”
Instead, people were calling their spouses, checking real estate listings, and looking up the performance of the local school district. I heard that someone wound up in tears.
That was when I realized that different professions have their own special style of humor, jokes that fly and jokes that don’t fly.
For instance, security guards like jokes about eating your lunch or helping themselves to a donut. Finance people are game for jokes in the classic question/answer format, especially if they involve numerals, like “What did zero say to eight?” Engineers like t-shirts on which the joke is a mathematical formula.
Not everyone is prepared for satire.
My most recent prank didn’t work out too well. I filked the Tom Lehrer song “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” changing the lyrics to be about COVID-19. “We Will All Cough Together When We Cough.” The very next day, unbeknownst to me, I contracted the virus. What I learned was: Do not taunt coronavirus.
This time, I thought, I’m new here. I haven’t had my first work anniversary yet. Either this will be a great way to make friends and make an impression with my dazzling leadership and presentation skills...
Or it will turn into a massive fireball and I’ll get written up and jeopardize my chances of ever getting a security clearance.
At least I can’t get deported. *shrug*
I took the liberty of inviting everyone in my subdivision to an event that I called the Emerging Topics Colloquium. I claimed that it was sponsored by the Amalgamated Cold Fusion Corporation, which people are already referring to as ACFC.
I figured that the invitation would speak for itself. I carefully avoided using the phrase “April Fool’s Day” at any point.
Then I hand-selected everyone I knew well enough to suppose that they 1. had a sense of humor, 2. would be willing to give a public presentation, and 3. could keep a straight face while spouting pure pseudoscience.
I told my boss. The first thing he said was “Be careful.”
It’s true, there’s a fine line between hosting a morale-boosting lunchtime event and being seen to be endorsing pseudoscience under the company name.
I didn’t ask anybody to vet their material in advance. For all I knew, each individual presentation would be its own special menace, from proselytizing for a cult, to advertising for multi-level-marketed “nutritional” “supplements,” to attacking a rival’s research.
There are some lessons here in a bunch of things. Comedy. Ideation. Social trust.
What I did was to leave the invitation as wide-open as possible.
I was thinking maybe you could do a 1-5 minute presentation. Can you talk about pseudoscience with a straight face?
I made some pretty good guesses. One of the people, someone I barely know, made several slides complete with animation. If this person ever asks me for a favor I will drop everything and make it happen.
A few people either turned down my pitch or begged off at the last minute, saying they were too busy. They all attended and I bet they’re kicking themselves now.
YOU COULD HAVE BEEN A LEGEND
Part of what differentiates a comedian from an average person is that we don’t think about ourselves, we think about how funny the idea is. Wait until you hear this one! The explosive laughter that will be generated is worth the price of personal emotional risk.
Laughter is like a magic spell. When people laugh, they bond. They’ve shared something that makes them feel like family. Perhaps better than family. The joke has the capacity to expand, including more people and more material.
In fact I guarantee that after my pseudoscience event, the people who attended are going to be cracking jokes about man-sized shrimp and the Bermuda Rhombus for weeks, possibly years.
Something else about my event is that it involved more than comedy. It was a demonstration of the ideation process. What these two disciplines have in common is the premise of YES, AND. Take one idea and build on it. All ideas welcome.
One of the best things about the colloquium was the Q&A between topics. Not only the presenters, but also the audience, were absolutely killing it in keeping a straight face. Meanwhile the chat was lit up and emoticons occasionally floated into view, laughing faces and applause hands.
Another great thing was that almost by magic, some of the presentations referred to one another. We had two separate ‘Flat Earth’ illustrations, for instance. Since this was the inaugural event, it can be anticipated that next year’s topics will hark back to some of these inside jokes.
For of course there’s going to be a next year. My fondest hope is that this event will continue to expand in scale, perhaps one day incorporating props and costumes.
Even better, what if one of the pseudoscience ideas actually sparked a legit idea in someone? What if one of these ridiculous fake inventions transmogrified into a real one? What if some patents came out of all this?
I could see my silly little idea turning into something quite funny, an industry-wide invitational where perhaps some of the brightest minds in engineering and aerospace competed to crack each other up.
Here I am at the center of it all, blundering buffoon, willing to risk it all for a prank and a good laugh. That’s how I prank myself time after time.
Not sure who needs to hear this, but... don’t sit on your foot!
Of all the things we’ve all had to deal with in 2020 and beyond, I wouldn’t have thought this would become a focus for me. Working at home with poor ergonomics has finally brought home the negative effects of one of my bad little habits.
I’ve been sitting with my foot tucked under me for nearly a year.
Finally it started to cause noticeable pain. It got painful enough that I was forced to do something about it. Only now that it’s been a few days am I starting to realize this was a big deal.
That’s when I thought, I should probably share about my foot-sitting issue, why I was doing it, and how I am breaking the habit. I know there are other women like me out there.
Why sit on your foot?
This is an issue of being a small-framed person in furniture built to a design standard. There is a ‘standard’ set of measurements for countertops, doorway height, stair treads, table heights, and more. That standard is built around a human who is 5’10.”
I’m 5’4” and plenty of fully functional adults are my size or smaller.
I sit on my foot because my desk is slightly too high for someone of my frame. For me to sit where I can see my non-adjustable monitor, my chair is a little too high. Sitting with my feet flat on the floor causes my thighs to be at a downward angle.
The only real solutions for my problem would be to:
Make a custom desk, or buy something that is “child-sized”
Make a raised platform for my chair
Set up some kind of foot rest
Or do what I’ve been doing and contort my body to try to make it work.
Making the body fit the furniture is what most of us have been doing all our lives. We’re able to buy standard-sized commodities and we live in standard-sized infrastructure. We probably don’t even realize all the unique and specialized ways we adapt ourselves to our environment, rather than adapting our environment to ourselves.
I think this is why there is such a phenomenon as “man-spreading.” I can’t sit that way on a bus seat, or on a bench, because those seats and benches are too high for my skeletal structure. My feet dangle. A “man” can “spread” because those seating areas are designed for someone who is that height. Not me.
What about a standing desk?
Well, first of all, we’re in a pandemic and I have the furniture that I have.
I’m using the desk that I bought at a time when I only ever planned to sit at it for brief stretches. If I had realized I would be working at this desk for 45 hours a week or more, I would have gone for ergonomics rather than aesthetics.
Second, I learned recently that standing desks are not all they were cracked up to be when they first became a fad several years ago. While sitting is bad for us, standing all day can actually be worse. Among other things, it can increase risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes! They never told us that!
Put simply, the human body is not made to stay in one position for many hours at a stretch, unless it is sleeping. The only way to win is to be able to move around and work in different configurations throughout the day. Some jobs accommodate that and many do not.
Some of us have jobs where it’s a challenge even to get up for a restroom break, much less shift between ergonomically optimized modules.
I did what I could with what I have. That was to order something inexpensive and hope it would help.
What I bought was an adjustable foot rest designed for sleeping on airplanes. It’s a foot hammock that is supposed to strap onto a folding tray table.
Whether this precise object would work for different styles of desk is beyond me. I’m sure it could be modified in some way, or it could spark an idea for something that would serve a similar purpose, which is to elevate the feet while sitting in a standard office chair.
My relief was instant. I was so happy!
Ahhh, I thought. Ahh, my feet are so comfy.
I know how pernicious a long-standing habit can be. I have probably been sitting on my foot as a default “relaxation” posture since grade school. I honestly don’t remember when I first started doing it. Stopping a habit like this is on the order of stopping a habit like hair twirling or nail-biting.
That’s why I was so surprised that the foot hammock worked right away.
Strangely, it wasn’t long after switching to the foot hammock that my ankle started bothering me. My attention was freshly drawn to a part of my body that I have been mistreating for hours every day over many months.
I’ve been stretching and rolling my ankles in circles. I know it’s not recommended, but I’ve also been going at that ankle and calf with the percussion massager. (Using a vibrating massager on your legs can possibly kill you by loosening a blood clot - it’s happened to people before and that’s why it’s mentioned on all the warning labels).
Other people who sit on their own foot may develop problems different than mine. I did a search on the phrase “don’t sit on your foot” and found a bunch of discussion boards talking about just that. Pelvic tilt, lower back pain, knee problems, popped tendons... Not great.
I can only assume that a bad posture habit will get worse over time. I have my reasons for feeling like sitting on my foot was comfortable and natural. It’s something that I have done for decades. Why should I change something that is so much a part of me? Can’t I have anything??
I had to make a change because what I was doing was painful and getting worse. I can only assume that something that is causing me physical pain at age 45 will only be more painful - or impossible - at 55 or 65 or 75.
Working from home has its drawbacks as well as its advantages. If I am going to continue doing it, there are a bunch of changes I plan to make, starting with moving to a place with a second bedroom and buying a proper desk at the right height.
In the meantime, this foot hammock is doing a great job of helping me stop annoying myself. It’s easily adjustable. I can bring it with me if I have to start commuting into the office again. Maybe I’ll even try it out for its intended use one day soon and bring it on an airplane.
My friend makes $1000 to $2000 a month dog-sitting. Can you believe it?
I thought I would share this story, partly because we’re thinking of trying what she is doing, but mostly because it is so illustrative of the fact that there are infinite ways to bring in money.
It isn’t really the cash that motivates my friend. It’s the dogs.
Say there is someone who absolutely adores dogs. Loves dog energy. Thinks that dogs are the best creatures on Earth. Is a total “animal person.”
Now, imagine that same person loves to travel, both for business and for pleasure. Is not in a position to own a pet. Does not have immediate plans to settle down.
What would be a way for this dog-loving person to have a dog around as often as possible, while not abdicating on a commitment?
This is where the dog-sitting idea came in. Why not be surrounded by dogs on demand, and also get paid for it??
It’s now easy to sign up with one of several pet-sitting apps. It doesn’t take long in a reputation-based business like that for individuals to stand out one way or the other.
My friend is a business professional with an immaculate home. She lives alone, doesn’t smoke, and has no other pets. Those qualities are true of some people and not of others.
I know from experience the way my friend spoils dogs. Our own dog used to try to jump in her car window whenever he saw her. We came home from a week overseas, and he didn’t even meet us at the door. He just popped his head up and stayed in her lap.
Oh, I see how it is!
Who is the real winner of this arrangement?
The spoiled dog? The dog-loving lady who isn’t ready to commit? Or the traveling couple who worry so much when they are out of town?
Everyone is the winner in this scenario.
We’ve been thinking of ways to expand the services she offers, without of course going to great lengths of effort or expense.
Dropping dogs off at the groomer’s before the owner comes home?
Taking dogs to their vet appointments?
Anyone who travels a lot for work would probably be thrilled to be able to hire this out. Find out the going rate, shrug, and pay it.
Personally I think ‘dog massage’ would be another winner. For someone who is willing to give a dog massage, and for the right breed, that seems like it could be a natural fit. I used to live next door to a huge elderly Newfie who probably would have loved it.
Another way my friend could make more money with her current dog hustle would be to set out on her own and book her own clients. She wouldn’t have to pay a cut to the app any more.
Another thing she could do would be to reach out to local dog walkers, veterinarians, or groomers and offer her card. Not everyone is willing to host dogs overnight; not everyone lives in a place that would accommodate it.
We in our fifth floor apartment would not be able to do this sort of business right now, especially since we work office jobs at home. Barking would not be a value-add for our video meetings.
There are probably a lot of people who live in an ordinary suburban house who also enjoy having dogs around. Just as there are probably a lot of people who have the space to rent out a room on AirBnB if they cleaned up and got rid of a few truckloads of clutter.
The bar to entry for certain side hustles is lower than it’s ever been.
A lot of people are overlooking an asset in their life, either because they have always taken it for granted or because it has never occurred to them that it’s an asset. Others are in a beaten-down and depressive state, convinced that they are no good to anybody, when the very next day they could quite easily be making someone’s life easier or better.
What are your assets?
A garage - even if it’s currently packed wall to ceiling
A yard - even if it’s overgrown and full of junk
More than one bedroom - even if the house is hoarded hip deep
Talent with animals
Decent internet connectivity, which not all neighborhoods have
A working computer of whatever age
Ability to pass a background check
Ability to pass a drug screen
A high school diploma - or not - plenty of people have a GED
I hadn’t had a day job in over ten years when I applied for my current position. I said as much in my phone screen. They still made me an offer. It is right and good for the employer to decide which candidates they want, and far be it from me to talk them out of it.
Could my friend be doing something else with her time to make an average of a thousand dollars a month? Or more? Probably. Do her clients care? Probably not. The dogs certainly don’t.
Wherever we live next, when the pandemic is over, we might very well sign up as dog-sitters. For the money? No, not really, although it’s fair to charge when we might have reason to replace our sofa. We would do it because it’s nice to have a dog around, and also it’s challenging to be a pet owner with a busy travel schedule.
How about you? Would you consider something like dog-sitting to make some extra money?
Do you have a favorite thing that could potentially be a source of income as well?
I keep reminding myself that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, on Sunday nights, my sleep is disrupted. Seemingly only my stress level is to blame.
‘Anticipatory stress’ is a thing.
I have been working on this issue all year, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe I need to stop thinking of it as “working on” or as “a problem” or even as “stress.”
Why would I snap awake at 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday night when there is nothing to worry about?
I tried a new experiment, which was to soak in Epsom salts and go to bed early.
I’m chill, I’m relaxed, I’m so chill that people mistake me for the Big Lebowski...
The warm bath was really quite lovely. I discovered a new album by one of my favorite singers, and I soaked and listened to that and finished an excellent novel with a twist ending. Couldn’t ask for more.
Then I went to bed early, as stated, not a care in the world... only to snap awake in the middle of the night.
This doesn’t usually happen on other nights of the week.
I have tried so many things to generally relax more and improve my quality of sleep:
Spending more time in natural light earlier in the day
White noise generator
Cutting off news at a designated time in the evening
Monitoring hydration from morning to evening, and cutting off fluids
No sweets or snacks after dinner
I don’t have real situational stress (other than the pandemic) in the way that I have in the past. No pressing health issues, money concerns, relationship problems, noisy neighbors, none of that.
Is it my job then?
I don’t think so. I have good relationships with my boss and my immediate team. As far as I know I’m well-regarded for being on time and getting stuff done. I had a good performance review and all that.
(If anyone else is reading this and thinking, Gee, must be nice - well then, at least you have a clear and specific answer to something you can be working on).
I like obvious problems because they can be resolved.
This is more like a vague problem miasma.
Is this a non-problem?
That is another ‘solution’ for many problems. Simply decide that this is not really a problem in your life and resolve to ignore it.
For instance, we have neighbors on our floor who have two hound dogs. Whenever they are in the hallway, they bay and bark and skitter around like they’re on a fox hunt. But then they’re gone, perhaps to hunt an actual fox. This is a two-minute annoyance that happens maybe once a week. If they were my dogs, I’d be embarrassed, but they aren’t, and this is not my problem.
Not being able to sleep well every Sunday night is a problem in my world. It means I start the week tired and struggling to focus. I seem to require about ten hours of sleep a day, which I am only able to get on weekends. Therefore I become progressively more tired all through the week. I only start to feel rested and productive on Saturday.
Obviously I’ve been making it through the weeks. I’m able to manage. I get my job done, keep dinner on the table, the apartment is reasonably clean, laundry is caught up, groceries are coming in the door.
It’s just that I’m so tired all the time.
What about a nap during the day?
I’ve thought about this. Boy have I thought about it.
There is a constraint here, in that I am in a support role. The main function of my job is to be available for sudden questions or “tag-ups,” which are ad hoc meetings. On more than one occasion, I have stepped away for two minutes to use the restroom, only to return to a meeting in progress where three or four people are waiting for me. There isn’t really a way to structure my day where I could go sleep for three hours, which is what I need.
Work! It interferes with my nap schedule!
How do other people deal with the general existential situation of being in Work Mode 40-50 hours a week?
I try to remind myself of all the stretches in my life when I had to get on with things and I was sleeping more like five hours a night, or three. I still managed to stay employed and collect paychecks and turn in my homework and all that. The only bad things that really happened were that I went around with circles under my eyes and I was tired all the time.
It seems like one answer for the Sunday Scaries is to lower the bar for what counts as a good night of sleep, to make it less of a big deal if there is the occasional rough night, to not have such a dramatic shift in energy level from weekend to weekday.
That all feels so vague, like it would take a long time to notice a difference. I prefer something specific and actionable, or, in other words, I am no more patient than anyone else. I want instant results! I want to download something directly into my brain with the touch of a finger.
I looked up ‘sleep consultant’ and was alarmed by the price - although I might pay it eventually - and the fact that the local person I found is not available on Saturdays or Sundays. Oops.
I am considering hypnosis.
I am also considering something I have used to good effect in the past, which is to plan a more strenuous workout on Sunday to the point that I am too tired to do anything other than sleep deeply.
My attitude right now is, if I’m already having lower-quality sleep on Sunday nights, then I don’t really have anything to lose. I’ve already managed to rule out a few things, such as a weighted blanket or having the temperature too hot or too cool.
Let’s be methodical about it.
What are some things that you absolutely know interfere with your sleep? Are you going through the checklist and taking active steps to mitigate each one?
What are some things that lead to better sleep, and you know it? Are you making sure to do those things?
What are we going to try next?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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