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?
It’s always a good idea to think a little bit before making a big decision, although unfortunately I think it’s common to use those transitional moments to avoid the choice. Most people tend to talk themselves out of stuff.
I don’t think the stress of making a decision is all that big a deal. I think transitions are interesting.
The stress I’m worried about is the unknown attitudinal changes that will be required after making the change. If ‘then’ is going to be different than ‘now’ - then how?
What information will I have then that I don’t have yet?
What will Post-Decision Me wish I’d known?
Is there anything useful I can find out from anyone else who has already done this?
Is being in the new place going to affect the way I make decisions from that point forward?
I hear a lot of people talking themselves into making some kind of big change by saying, “I’ll still be the same person.” This has always seemed very strange to me. What is the point of making a change if you’re going to be the same person afterward? Isn’t the entire point to become someone new, at least in a small way? Someone better in some sense - stronger, braver, more experienced, more skilled, more interesting?
One of the worst things I can think of is to always be the same person, forever. I mean. What if we were all still stuck with the musical tastes we had at age twelve and the culinary preferences we had at age four? The driving skills we had at fifteen? I don’t particularly think that my listening skills, ethical framework, or storytelling abilities were better at any earlier age than they are now, so why would I want to be stuck at that point of development?
This is what it sounds like when I try to talk myself into something.
I think what some people want to hang onto is actually a certain skeptical outlook, which is all well and good. It’s good to be rational when making choices and doing research. Personally, though, I’d rather be swept away and smitten by something when I’m exploring something new.
That is how it happens for me - that I get a mental crush on something and throw myself at it, learning as much as I can, until I develop a certain level of competence or knowledge. Then it generally becomes something that I follow on more of a maintenance level.
This is the feeling that I’m hoping to generate as I contemplate going to grad school.
There are other things I’m contemplating, one of which is the possibility of moving up a level at work. Okay, maybe not right this minute - but I have a solid twenty years of career arc left ahead of me on the traditional timeline. That is plenty of time to work one’s way into a leadership position. It isn’t wrong to declare an intent in that direction.
That would be one of the main points of getting a doctorate as well - some sort of role as a thought leader.
I’ve never had a true profession. It staggers my imagination that I am still in a clerical role at 45, although it’s something that I chose and chased down for myself, believing it to be a foot in the door of an organization that has captured my attention. One way or another, I will vault myself up and out at some point.
What I am starting to realize is that there are mindset shifts that must occur between one level and the next.
“What got you here won’t get you there.” Yet there’s sometimes a Catch-22, in that you can’t really know what you need to know until you’re able to find it out.
I often feel that I finally know enough to start whatever it was that I’m doing, six months or a year later. For instance, it was only after six months of Krav Maga that I felt physically fit enough to start taking the classes. If only I’d known to start doing fifty push-ups before I came here...
The question is always, What is the ‘fifty push-ups’ of this discipline going to be?
I hope it’s public speaking, since I already trained on that. But what if it’s statistics, or pivot tables, or calculus??
I’ve always been a grind, and it never really bothers me to have to grit my way through something. When I think about competing with kids twenty years younger, I laugh. Not a single one of them can out-read me. There is no way anyone in their twenties can possibly compete with the discipline and focus of someone in their forties. Sorry, kiddos.
There are other advantages of mid-life, few of which would be apparent to a younger person. For instance, a lot of major decisions have been crossed off my list that can still completely derail them. I know where I want to live, whether I want to get married (yes) and have kids (no), and I know how to cook and manage a household. I know there’s no reason to go to late-night parties, at least for me; it turns out the same people exist at 8 PM as exist at 2 AM.
So many of the temptations of youth haven’t panned out. I’m at a stage of life when that feels satisfying rather than disappointing.
When I think about going back to school “at my age” it is, in many ways, a relief. I have gained so many competencies that were not in my arsenal 25 years ago.
In other ways, I remember how tired I was after studying all night, and I wonder whether I really have even one all-nighter left in me.
What I look for is the person I will be on the other side, the career she will have, and the outlook on life that she will have earned. That is not a tired woman who pulls all-nighters.
What I try to do is to put on her insights as an imaginary thinking cap. What attitude would she have toward these decisions, Future Me? What advice would she give me? How would she respond to the situations that currently stress me out?
This is what makes me think that it’s a fair trade. The stress of today, the decisions and the transitions that lie before me, in a transaction that buys me the comparatively stress-free position that Future Me will have earned.
Today we were all looking at the floor plan of the building where I nominally work. I’ve been to the building, coincidentally, but I haven’t been within miles of the place since the day I was hired. I don’t have a security badge and there is no computer on my desk. I might not even have a chair - I don’t actually know.
My name is on the map, though. Might as well take this as a sign that the world is going to be more or less back to normal in the near future.
Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone. I know a few happily retired people whose lifestyles haven’t changed much at all since the pandemic. I also know several people who have driven to work every morning without a hitch, the only differences being the masks, the sanitizing, and the distancing requirements.
Statistics show, though, that only 34% of people can now claim they never work from home, and 44% are working from home all the time now.
That means a lot of us are going to need to shift gears pretty radically when we start going back in to the office.
Predictably, there are probably going to be a lot of long lines and wait lists for things like haircuts.
(I’ve been fine cutting my own hair, and my big headphones are graciously covering a lot of… transition… in my hair coloring… but I would rather make my debut with one consistent shade than a giant ledge in the middle of my head).
I know I won’t be going into the office in person for at least another four months. That might sound like a long time. If I think of it in terms of wearing the mask and being cooped up in our dinky apartment, it’s crazy-making. Then when I think of it in the context of everything I have to do, it sounds like the blink of an eye.
Time to start making a backlog.
Cut and color - I can do that in the same appointment. What else do I need to do in that end of town? (Haha, just kidding, I get my hair cut in the building next door).
Work clothes - alas! I can’t wear my beloved “work pajamas” to the office and I know I don’t fit in any of my office-type clothes from 3-4 years ago. This gives me four months to either put together a new capsule wardrobe or drop a few pounds, something I have been trying to do for the past year with little success.
Shoes - same. Whatever clothes I wind up wearing, coordinating shoes are on the same list.
Work bag - I can use what I have. Do I need to clean it out? What’s in there, anyway?
Lunches - I haven’t had to pack a lunch to take to work since 2009. What am I going to eat?? I don’t even know what this place has in terms of a break room. This brings back so many memories of having food stolen from the communal fridge, the reason I used to bring ugly melted containers for my leftovers.
The commute! - I haven’t had to commute in over a decade, either. How am I going to get there?? It is out of walking range and I’m not sure I will ever feel brave enough to board a public bus again. Last time, last summer, I wound up with bacterial pneumonia and I’m not sure whether that was a coincidence or an unfortunate consequence of sharing space with Other People. This is a non-trivial problem that I hope is resolved by the decision that everyone may continue merrily working from home.
But - just in case - plan I must.
I read that in the before-times, a lot of people worked from home at least occasionally. In those types of offices, it appears that the people who come into the office are the ones who get promoted. This is obviously a factor in this type of decision.
On my team, I also happen to live the closest to campus. If one of us were to be called upon to commute in, I would feel stingy if I kept wheedling or positioning myself so that Someone Else had to go in instead of me.
Thus I am facing the prospect of going in, working in person, and sitting at a desk with a mixture of excitement, curiosity, resignation, and of course a healthy dollop of mortal terror.
It turns out that we don’t have a legal basis for requiring people to get vaccinated before they can come to work.
What we have here is a raging case of Uncertainty, and being in the Place of Uncertainty is a phenomenally strong motivation to attempt more planning and preparedness exercises.
This is what I do. I visualize myself getting up, getting dressed, grabbing my lunch and my work bag, and making my way to work.
As opposed to putting on my “work pajamas” and wandering twenty feet to my desk, where I can work barefoot or bundled in a blanket and nobody even knows.
There are other things that we can all consider before the world goes back to normal. These are the things that Today Me has not felt like doing, but that Future Me is going to be too busy to do once that hour a day or more is lost to commuting.
Cleaning out the car?
Trying on work clothes and sorting out whether they fit, whether they need repairs, or whether they should get recycled
Sorting through all the various bottles, jars, and potions in the bathroom
Practicing all the hair and makeup styling tricks I have completely forgotten how to do
The stuff I wish everyone else would do, to wit, learning to write a decent email subject header and figure out when to reply-all or not
And, honestly, the stuff most of us are more likely to do once we realize that WFH is almost over and may never return:
Staying up as late as possible idly scrolling on our phones
Binge-watching a few last shows
Suddenly feeling premature nostalgia for this time that we all hated so much, until we realized it was almost gone.
All right then. Assuming you can have literally anything you ask for, that someone else will do all the associated remodeling, cleanup, installation, and furniture moves at your direction, what do you actually want?
This is where we are right now at my work, imagining what we want work to look like. We’re stuck in the imagination stage because the majority of us still don’t know when we can get our vaccines. We’re on mandatory work-from-home.
Want to know something funny? I designed a survey and built in a “no preference” response and about 10% of the respondents chose that.
No preference, really?
You have no preference whether you commute or not, or whether you have your own office or not?
I believe there are people like this in the world, people whose least favorite thing is to have to choose something. I am not one of these people. Maybe what we need is a benevolent AI that keeps track of decisionless people and randomly assigns them to things.
Further, I think almost everyone is so hung up on all the annoyances and things that we dislike about working that it hasn’t occurred to us to wonder what we actually DO want.
Personally I like variety. I like to be able to get up and work in different places, maybe outside, maybe on the bus, maybe in a cafe, maybe even on the library stairs or something. All of that has been extracted from my life by the pandemic. The best I can do is to occasionally work on my blog from an inflatable chair at the park.
Right now I am sitting at my desk, which I normally reserve for work-work, because I dropped my phone on my iPad and it’s in the shop.
Note, shouldn’t all Apple products be immune to each other? Why is it possible for me to do $330 worth of damage to one of my products with another one of my products?? (At least I didn’t shatter both of them at once…)
I’m willing to bet that a lot of people are leaning toward working from home because we have become accustomed to the convenience of doing household chores while in meetings.
(I do a lot of mine either while I’m waiting for my computer to warm up or while I’m in the process of making my lunch).
Okay, let’s think bigger. What if our homes are modernized as quickly as the office? What if algorithms and robots are reliably taking care of more of our bandwidth and we’re actually able to do the fun, creative, intellectually stimulating stuff ourselves?
What does THAT look like?
I’m still waiting for an AI that can work as a companion, listening genially as I ramble on and on, ideating and shifting between completely unrelated projects, circling back, changing the subject with no warning, the way that my human friends have come to expect and
OH, that reminds me
By the time an AI can keep up with a creative, non-neurotypical person such as myself, it will be able to do virtually anything.
The only way that will ever happen is if we keep dreaming bigger, learning to hand off more and more mental tasks, and thus incrementally training this concept of an artificial brain.
From experience working with the chronically disorganized, I can say that problems at work are similar to problems at home, which is, the routine parts are too boring to get done, but the non-routine parts are often too confusing.
Who do I call to handle this? How do I describe it? What actually needs to get done? How much of it am I expected to do myself and how much can I delegate to someone else? What order do the steps go?
I used to have a social services job in which, every day, I would get calls from people looking for a completely different department or a completely different branch of government. If I didn’t help them myself they would just call me again.
Almost nobody on Earth will actually Google something on their own, even if it was faster and easier and came with cute photos. They’d rather Talk to a Real Person (TM) so they don’t have to engage System 2 thinking.
This is why I am torn between thinking that AI will never happen, or that AI will eventually save us all.
What if AI convincingly sounded like that proverbial “real person”? An endlessly patient and useful person, who knew every answer, never asked you to repeat yourself, and read your mood perfectly? What if that “real person” was always available and you never had to wait on hold?
I think it’s possible.
Because, even though many of us carry incredibly powerful computers with vast search engines in our pockets round the clock, we aren’t using them to further our knowledge or understanding of the world. Instead we use them to spy on each other, argue with each other, and look at video clips. If we genuinely had this helpful and eager “customer service rep” waiting there to do more of the steps for us, maybe we would take advantage of that opportunity?
Or is it more like, the more things are automated for us, the more things will feel like “work” even though they are less work than what came before?
I have a desk job, but I know a lot of people who don’t. They are gradually adopting more and more automation, from power tools to GPS to digital levels, etc. Who doesn’t enjoy using a pressure washer?
That’s what I’m personally looking for, a work experience that feels more like playing with a toy or having a fascinating conversation. Does that feel possible?
Or do we really all just want to go back to commuting, honking at each other, rushing to stand in line to buy coffee in disposable cups, scrolling through hundreds of emails, and tapping our pens in endless meetings? Do we miss normality so much that it actually looks like it was ever a good idea?
We played hooky.
By that I mean, I went to the dentist, and my hubby drove, and he used comp time and I used two hours of vacation.
I was supposed to take the whole day off. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.
All the same, what we managed to do with a fairly brief window of time off duty felt like a vacation day. Properly planned, it doesn’t take very much.
The first thing that made this day feel like a vacation day is that neither of us had to sign on at a particular time. I blew off my morning stand-up meeting since I had already written up and submitted a status report. Delayed delivery is our friend!
More of us should start taking it seriously when we say “this meeting could have been an email” - and actually write the email and then cancel that meeting.
I did have a meeting scheduled that I had forgotten about when I asked for the day off. I wanted to keep it, though, and we wound up finishing our discussion in under fifteen minutes. Whether “work” feels like “work” depends almost entirely on how much agency you have around your project. It doesn’t even have to be interesting or challenging if you feel like you are the boss of getting it done.
Since I had this meeting that I wanted to keep, I made an intuitive decision that I would put in a certain amount of a proper workday, and that I would do it sub-rosa. I simply wouldn’t log in or talk to anyone else, and I would get some stuff off my backlog.
This was a little nutty but it totally worked. It felt like I got two days off in one - the equivalent to my working Fridays, when nobody else is around and I can be 3x as productive - plus a fun outing.
It turned out my hubby also had a morning meeting that he had forgotten about, even though he, too, scheduled a day off. His was a little later than mine, so I used the time to get some stuff done. We both left feeling productive.
We took off, having temporary use of our friend’s car. (Everyone loves you when you have your own personal parking spot in a secured garage, at least when that spot is empty).
We drove to our old town, where neither of us can quite bring ourselves to break up with our dentist, even though it’s quite a haul. The truth is that trips to the dentist also make room for a quick tour around our old stomping grounds, and we still enjoy that, so much so that we keep talking about moving back.
(That is, until we drive home again and realize all over again how untenable the commute would be, even for a day).
While I had my appointment, my hubby sat outside our favorite old Starbucks, drank tea, and read a book.
One important secret to playing hooky is to do it during a season when you really appreciate the weather. Some people are going to want a snow day, some people are going to choose rain rolling down the window, and we of course are going to choose hot summer weather.
This is really the ingredient that made our day special. Half an hour of driving was like fast-forwarding from spring to summer. It was about 15 F hotter in town than it was at home. I wore a sleeveless top and a skirt, while I’ve been wearing sweaters for months.
It’s not quite enough to forget that one is wearing two masks plus a face shield, but maybe it’s as close as one can get right now.
I went to the dentist, and the news was not good, and I sometimes wonder what I have done to have this sort of saga visited on me. On the other hand, it does mean I’m going back again, and I have another appointment to look forward to, and I can try to think of all the fun parts of that day rather than dental implements.
After my appointment, I had a nice sunny walk down what used to be one of my favorite parts of town. I remembered all the times I went into the bookstore that was now open for curbside pickup only. I remembered past years when I had bought Girl Scout cookies from a table on the sidewalk, right at that corner. I remembered living there and having no idea that 2020 was coming and just swinging my arms and having a bare face.
Then I saw my hubby sitting at his little outdoor table. It has been a very long time since I was just able to walk up on him from a distance and see him from that vantage. I like to pretend sometimes that he’s just a random single boy and I’m a single girl and that I’m going to try to chat him up.
He told me a little about his book, which I imagine he would have done if I were flirting with him, because that would totally work.
We ordered sandwiches from what used to be our favorite sandwich shop. Sometimes we would eat there and then go see a movie. This time, we got our food in a bag and drove across town and went to a park.
Eating a meal in a park, when you haven’t done that for a long time, can feel like a vacation in itself.
It was such fine picnic weather. I saw a yellow-rumped warbler and a black phoebe and a very saucy squirrel. We ate potato chips and drank lemonade and felt that we had the entire day to do whatever we liked.
Then, of course, we realized that we really needed to get a move-on if we were going to beat traffic, and remembered all over again what it’s like to drive on a six-lane freeway, and why we decided never to have a freeway commute again, and why we got rid of our car.
We were back before 4:00 pm. It was a coin-toss whether I would log back on and work a bit more, or not. But it was too late to take a nap, and I had to sign my timecard anyway, and I realized I wanted to get stuff done. So I worked another two hours. But it felt like nothing.
The best parts of the day were enjoying the fine summer weather and having hours together to chat casually about whatever. In every respect, it was like a vacation day.
Except that I only had to take two hours of vacation to pull that off.
I’m sad to say that if I had taken the entire day off, like I originally planned, I probably would have spent a lot of the day thinking about work. I would have worried about what was lurking in my email and I would have stressed about how much more I would have to do the next day. This is definitely something that I need to work on - and a lot of people in our culture should probably join me. I will give myself credit for taking a part of a day and using it recreationally, which is what vacation time is for.
How about you? Are you leaving comp time or vacation time on the table? When is the last time you took an afternoon off, or even took a long lunch?
Jobs and romance are exactly alike. The same sorts of myths about perfection and fate and destiny are attached to both. In many ways, what people imagine about a “dream job” is a lot like a “dream wedding.”
But do you even have a dream job?
I know I never did, until I did.
I had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do. All I knew was what I didn’t like about whatever I was currently doing.
I hated getting up so early and commuting. I hated having a dress code and I felt very intimidated by that each day. Roughest of all was managing my attitude and facial expressions around customers and coworkers, no matter what they were doing or how I was feeling.
When I imagined having a better job - not a “dream job,” mind you - all I could think about was earning more money doing basically the same thing.
It wasn’t even in my mental landscape what would be different if I did earn more.
I couldn’t really imagine living in my own place and not needing roommates. I couldn’t really imagine having my own washer and dryer and not having to haul everything to the laundry room. I couldn’t even imagine being able to afford to go on a vacation.
There wasn’t even really a connection in my mind between the way I lived/struggled and the amount I earned in a month or a year. I was thinking one week at a time.
There was a blank cloud in my heart where “dream job” could go, and all that was in there was “earn more money somehow.” Which basically translated as “be less broke.”
I didn’t particularly know anyone who had a great job. If I met someone like a nurse or an engineer, all I knew was that I wasn’t qualified to do those things. There wasn’t anything magnetically attractive about those careers to me.
It’s different now. I’ve met all sorts of people who do all sorts of fascinating things. Opera singers and martial arts instructors, astronauts and surgeons, public speaking coaches and restaurant owners, hair stylists and plumbers.
We grew up.
In your forties and fifties, a lot of people have had time to figure out what they want to do, and they’re either doing it or training for it.
In my twenties I hung around with people my own age. Almost everyone I knew either worked in retail or as a waiter, except for one guy who worked in a hotel laundry and obtained a lot of second-hand tablecloths for our theater experiments. I was one of the only people in our friend group who had an office job.
What I learned to appreciate about my boring, dull office job was that I knew I would have Saturday and Sunday off, not just a week in advance but *years* in advance.
So much of a dream job has to do with the lifestyle around it, not the work itself.
Hair stylists are an example. From my perspective, they’re on their feet all day long! I always ask, when I’m getting a trim, “Did you always want to cut hair?” Almost every time, they answer that they started when they were kids, cutting their friends’ hair, and they can’t imagine doing anything else. There must be something compelling about spinning someone around in the chair to marvel at the transformation you have just worked. There’s also no real upper limit to how much a hair stylist can earn or the level of fame and prestige of their clients.
I learned to cut hair in 2020, first my husband’s and now my own. It turns out that it’s kinda fun. It is satisfying to see that you’re up to at least the level of a $6 barber. It’s also made me even more inclined to appreciate the artistry of a good stylist and eager to pay someone else to do it.
I’ve arrived at my personal dream job after learning about, and ruling out, a lot of other professions. I realized that I didn’t want to run my own business because I’d have to spend so much time hustling and marketing and promoting whatever I was doing. I knew I didn’t want to do anything that involved working nights, weekends, or holidays. I didn’t want to drive from site to site.
As I looked around, I realized that what I loved was the predictability and decorum of the business world. There’s a code of conduct - one that I didn’t understand quite so well when I was younger, but that makes me feel at home now. I think business jargon is funny and endearing, but we can circle back to that.
It happened when I was just an impressionable child. I saw “His Gal Friday” and the arrow struck me in the heart. When I grew up, I would need to work in an office with a typewriter and that’s all there was to it.
What would I be doing with that typewriter? Who cares?
I call my job my “dream job” because I had in mind a specific position in a specific company. When the opening came up, nobody could have been more enthusiastic than me. THIS job! Working for the specific person I had in mind! In the interview, I said I wasn’t even applying anywhere else, that my passion was for sending things to space and becoming part of a multi-planetary civilization. That I could see myself spending the next twenty years there.
Not everyone who works where I work is all that enamored of the space industry. That is strange to me because many of the jobs are prosaic, the likes of which can be found in any industry. Planners and purchasers and managers and recruiters and facilities crew and security and all the rest. Not everyone does orbital mechanics or propulsion engineering, although if you do, DM me, we’re hiring. I just would have figured that every space geek in the world would want to work in a place like this, and there wouldn’t be room for someone who would just as soon be working for a sports franchise or a mortgage bank.
The first secret of having a dream job is to have a field that you find incredibly interesting. The second secret is that the more you learn about it, the more interesting it gets. At that point, even a straightforward and unglamorous role can at least feel like something dynamic and purposeful.
A dream job isn’t like a dollar bill that you find in the street. It’s a starting point. It’s a role. Just like the fabled “dream wedding,” it’s not over when you get your offer letter. It’s a relationship that is just beginning.
Who taught you to job hunt?
This is a question that I think few people ask themselves, but it’s important.
A friend of ours reported struggling to find a job, and we asked her process. She was dropping by places where she wanted to apply, in person, during the pandemic, to ask if they had an opening.
I didn’t even have to ask to know that a Baby Boomer suggested this plan. Back in the 1970s, it was a solid strategy that actually got people jobs. (Not the “visit during a pandemic” part, though!)
Having worked in an employment agency and having met dozens of interview candidates at a dozen different companies, I can tell you with some authority that this process does not work if you want an office job.
(It might work if you want to bus tables at a restaurant or do manual labor on a construction site, but I’m not sure. Just guessing).
Your very first rule is not to annoy the front office staff. This must be said because apparently a shocking number of people find it impossible to do.
This is why it’s a good idea to ask yourself, where did you get your ideas on how to conduct a job hunt? Does the person who gave you this advice work in your actual field? (Not “did” as in “many years ago,” but does this person actively work in this field today?)
Have you checked those ideas with anyone else? Do these other people also have successful careers in your field?
Something it took me much too long to discover was that it’s better to ask for advice from people than it is to ask them for job leads. The ratio should be about 10% asking people for their time to help you, to 90% doing your own reading and research.
People ask me to look over their resumes all the time, which I do because I’m super nice that way, and it typically takes me an hour. It’s really important to understand that an hour of a busy person’s time is a big ask. You need to be paying that forward and making absolutely sure you are doing at least 1:1 hours of nice, generous things for other people.
Because that’s what ‘work’ is.
It gets a lot easier when you take on the persona of a finisher, a closer, someone who will absolutely not just bend over backward, but try to put your foot behind your head if that’s what it takes to get something done.
That’s when people start reaching out to *you* with unsolicited offers, rather than you chasing after them.
You can build a reputation like this in the volunteer world.
This is that type of ‘duh’ advice that makes people’s eyes roll back in your head. Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. How will I have time to do that when I’m so busy with this job hunt?
I never understood how true it was until I did it myself.
I’m firmly convinced that all the volunteer leadership I did in Toastmasters is what got me my dream job - well, that and the spec work I did on my tech newsletter.
There are two forces operating here, and I’m firmly convinced that almost zero job applicants put them to use, even as the standard “submit resume to hundreds of companies and wait” method returns so few results.
One is the force of networking, building a solid reputation with perhaps a hundred people who only know two things about you. First, you’re useful to have on projects, and second, you’re interested in a particular kind of job opening.
The other is the sheer mystical power of the portfolio method.
This is how I got my job.
First, I applied for two jobs and did not hear back. No rejection letter, no call, no interview, no nuthin. What I did do, though, was to attend a resume workshop and talk to a consultant. I hadn’t had a regular job in over ten years, and I wanted help figuring out how to explain that. We met, I wrote my resume and had two other business friends give me notes on it, and then I sent it to her and we talked over it again.
The third job I applied for was the job that I got. Same resume, same type of position, with two key differences.
I actually knew the specific person I would be working for, and I had met at least a dozen people, not just in the company, but in the specific division where I wound up working.
Also, I had been doing my spec project for over a year. I had inside information that it was on target. I figured it would eventually get me a job at this company - I gave it four years - and when it actually worked, I was simply surprised that it happened faster than I had thought.
Two things are happening here. One is that I am a known quantity to the people with whom I want to work. The other is that they have an ongoing sample of the quality of my work. By the time they interview me, it’s more or less a formality, because they already know I can do high-quality work on a consistent production schedule.
Twenty years ago, I knew that most jobs and promotional opportunities are never publicly advertised. I also knew that answering ads didn’t work very well. What I did not know was how the heck a person like me with no connections could get ahold of one of those jobs.
Now I do know.
Did it take hours of unpaid work on my part? Yes.
Did it take paying to hire someone to look over my resume? Yes.
Did all of that magically get compensated by my first paycheck at the new, higher-paying job? Yes.
It’s true that the existing system is not designed to be welcoming to outsiders, no matter what field you’re in. It’s also true that it’s still possible to become an insider. With a sincere desire to fill a specific role in a specific field, and consistent effort strategically applied, probably anyone can eventually become one of those insiders.
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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