One of my favorite conversation starters has always been to ask people what they would do if they were filthy rich, but excluding the boring stuff. Everybody says buy houses, cars, take care of family, whatever. I want to know about the crazy stuff people would do. What are the really wild, silly, or just plain idiotic things you would do if you had more money than sense?
Here’s my list.
First, I would have a mascot of myself designed. You know, the kind with the really big heads that they have at sporting events. It would look just like me, only bigger. Then I would pay someone to wear it and follow me around all day, trying to get people to cheer me on as I went about my daily routine. I might even hire a marching band to follow me around as well.
Does anyone else remember this commercial? I would do this. I would go to the nicest restaurant in Washington D.C. and I would totally do this. I would also treat the entire orchestra to dinner, because I’m that kind of guy.
I’d get a t-shirt cannon and launch t-shirts through the window of every Keynesian economist’s office that said “Sorry about breaking your window, but at least I’m stimulating the economy”.
I would have my own musical soundtrack, and it would be played by the group that would follow me everywhere. This group would, of course, be composed entirely of little people. Don’t ask me why.
I would offer to donate $1 to any politician’s re-election campaign for every foot of the highest skydive they do out of a moving airplane. There’s just one catch: their parachute would have to be packed by the poorest person they represent. Never let it be said I don’t have a sense of social justice.
I would donate $1,000,000 to the first Ivy League university that conferred an honorary doctorate on me. I’ve always wanted to be Doctor Bob. I’ve always wanted to bring down the tenor of the Ivy League even more.
I’d donate $5,000,000 to Oral Roberts University if they bestowed an honorary degree of divinity on me so I could be Reverend Bob. I would then turn around and donate $10,000,000 to the Anti-Defamation League and GLAD. Never let it be said I don’t have a vicious sense of humor.
Of course, the one I’m most famous for among friends and coworkers is Butter Bob.
Imagine, if you will, a statue of me (to help I’m about 5’9”, average middle aged Caucasian male) that’s 50 feet tall. Only this statue is carved entirely out of butter.
That’s Butter Bob.
My Not So Humble Wife wanted to be a part of it as well, so I decided she could have a macaroni statue that’s 49 ½ feet tall standing right next to mine, and we’ll have a statue of our dog carved out of Kraft powdered cheese mix next to it and a swimming pool of chilled milk next to that, so when Butter Bob inevitably melts and falls over it will create a grand cascade of mac and cheese goodness.
If anyone has their own fun ideas, please share!
Some of the worst advice I have ever heard is “do what you love for a living”, or alternatively “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it.” This advice is generally given either by people who are miserable in their own life choices and wish they had found a way to make this fantasy come true, or else it is the sort of illusory advice given by type-A personality entrepreneurs who would find success in anything they do because they are so driven they WILL succeed, even if they have to grab success by the throat and chokehold it into submission.
There are two inherent flaws with this advice as I see it, and I’ll break them down one at a time. The first is the fallacy of “do what you would even if you weren’t getting paid”. I honestly don’t know many people who have a passion for something that extends far enough to cover a career. Sure, plenty of people think they do, but that’s because they don’t have the time to really see it through, or else they don’t really make an honest effort at it. I’ll give you a couple examples: My Dad loved golf; I love video games. If he had the time, I think Dad could have played golf for a good four days a week, at least for a month or so. Then he would have started cutting back, because golf is tiring. As for video games, at my peak I was playing World of Warcraft like it was a second job – a part-time job. I played, I kid you not, at least twenty hours a week (after I quit I found time to start blogging. Not a coincidence.) When I would take a staycation from time to time, I would play upwards of forty hours a week in a single binge… and then lay off for a few days, because I needed a break. I then went back to my original routine.
The problem wasn’t that either Dad or I stopped loving what we did, it’s just that at some point most people can’t sustain the passion for something sufficiently to make a career of it. Those who can often do, or else they dedicate their lives to finding ways to incorporate that something into their lives in other ways, either though volunteer work or hobbies. Notice how at no point in that entire set of examples did I mention skill or demand; those would be elements of problem numero dos.
My biggest aggravation with the breezy advice “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it” is the “then find a way to get paid doing it” part. As if it was that simple. In many cases, the things people love to do people are already getting paid to do. Let’s go back to my previous examples. There are already people getting paid to play golf. They’re called professional golfers. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them (Tiger Woods, anyone?). There are even, to the best of my knowledge, golf pros at pretty much every country club in the nation, and every one of them is a much better golfer than my father was on his best day. Believe it or not, there are even professional video game players. Any one of them could romp me without paying attention. In the face of this, how does a simple person come along and just “find a way to get paid doing it”, especially when so many others want to?
Here’s my take on work: work is what you do to make the money you need to enable you to do the things you love. That doesn’t mean you have to hate your job; in fact, if you do hate your job (not just had a bad day, but actively hate your job and dread going in each day), seriously, quit. Find another job first if you must, but you might actually find being unemployed better for your mental and physical health. I did. But if your job is tolerable often that’s as good as it gets, and there’s nothing wrong with that; chasing the rainbows that someone else is offering will only make you miserable when you have no need to be.
If you can make money doing the things you love, hey, bonus. If you are one of the lucky few who gets paid doing what you love, do yourself and the rest of us a favor, keep your mouth shut about it, because nobody wants to hear it.
Just recently, I wrote about how to address a customer service situation from the customer’s perspective. As luck would have it, I ran into just such a situation these past few days, and I wanted to share it with you all.
I bought a new custom build computer from Microcenter in Fairfax, VA, and there were issues with my order. I won’t go into the gritty details, because this is actually meant to be a positive story. First, let me say that I discovered just how hard it is to follow my own advice. I was angry. I might even go so far as to say livid. So polite and patient were hard come by. I have to give complete respect to almost everyone I dealt with (one technician was a little surly on the phone, but then I was a little surly as well; you get what you give). When I finally went in to pick up my computer, everyone was very polite, and I definitely appreciate that. I did manage to keep my cool, and followed my own rules.
The manager I spoke with, Abdul, was very accommodating, very patient, and very helpful. He listened to my story, he apologized for the inconvenience, and he made things right for me. Let me point out I was very close to never shopping there again after having not one but two computers in a row built there, and he salvaged everything. That’s the power of good customer service right there.
Let me also say this: my old system is going to my wife. I’ve had it for seven years and it still works great. The only reason I’m giving it up is because she needs a new computer. I look forward to my new one. If you need a new computer, or just want new components or anything else and are in the Northern VA area, I suggest you check them out.
Yeah, that’s right. I’m telling everyone I know. Because that’s how happy I am. That’s the power of good customer service, too.
The other day I was out grocery shopping, and I saw a sweet deal on my favorite soda. I go through the stuff like most people go through water, so I jumped on it. When I got to the counter it didn’t ring up correctly, and I brought it to the clerk’s attention. He said it would ring properly after the sale finished, but it didn’t so I brought it to his attention again. Long story short, the soda was mislabeled. I had to go through a bit of a song and dance, but I got my money back (and the soda too!), which was pretty nice.
The experience reminded me that I’ve had plenty to say in the past about bad customer service, but having been on both sides of the retail counter plenty of times, I’ve also seen plenty of bad customers. While the retail experience has been perfected from art to science (quite literally), the retail customer doesn’t seem to have changed much from the dark days when I plied the trade. For those of you who might find yourselves in a customer service crisis, here’s some tips on how to get the most out of the situation.
Be Polite – I can’t think of a single situation in my life (other than a fistfight) that hasn’t or couldn’t have been improved by being polite. I’ve seen a lot of people try to intimidate store clerks and managers, either physically or socially, and I have to tell you it almost always backfires. Being polite at the least keeps the situation in the realm of negotiation, which means you might get something, rather than demand, in which case you’re far more likely to get nothing.
One of my favorite misconceptions in retail is “the customer is always right”. I don’t just mean this as a factual misconception, I mean this as a misconception in the sense that anyone in retail does or should believe this. Maybe if I only had a handful of customers come in on a regular basis and my livelihood depended on them, then maybe I would consider this phrase, but still unlikely. In this day and age, when most retail is as anonymous as an online chat room and I have no reason to believe I will ever see you again, why should I go out of my way to put up with your crap? Because you’ll badmouth me to all your cheap friends, who are as likely to pull the same stunt as you are? Yeah, that’s a threat.
Here’s another way to look at it: suppose I came to your office one day and told you that you were doing everything wrong. I (very loudly and obnoxiously) explain how you should be doing your job, running your business, and handling every situation, even though I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about, and chances are better than even you saw be stealing some rubber bands from the supply closet fifteen minutes ago. Then, to top it all off, I insist that I know how to run your business because I worked in a similar business for a summer in high school, thus implying that any idiot can do it.
Would you at all be inclined to give me anything I want under those conditions? If so, you’d be the first.
Be Patient – The next biggest sin I see people committing (and I do this too, but I try not to) is that they assume there should be someone ready to help them as soon as they need it, especially if they feel like they’ve been wronged somehow. I get this, I do. You paid good money for a specific product or service, and that product or service was not produced. You want satisfaction, and the longer you have to wait, the more you feel you are being cheated, because your time is also valuable.
Here’s the thing: They’re (usually) not making you wait on purpose. Most stores understand that having an unhappy customer standing around fuming does not make them look good to the other customers. But there are other customers to consider, and that’s assuming someone is even aware of your needs. Then there are certain procedures they need to follow, which if they don’t could mean they lose their job, which means a lot more to them than your displeasure (and trust me, they will never get fired just because you asked to speak to the manager and they were following the procedures).
Most of all, if there’s any flexibility to be had in this situation, you want it to work for you, not against you, and the fact of the matter is you are not in the position of power that you think you are. They might prefer not to lose you as a customer, but the more of an asshole you are the less they care, and there’s no law against not giving in to your unreasonable demands. Even on the (very off) chance they’re in the wrong, what are the chances you’re going to sue over a can of tomatoes or even something as big as a sweater? Slim to none, and they know that. So cool your jets.
Be Flexible – This one’s a little tough to internalize, but it’s important. Most people go into a customer service situation expecting they are there to right a wrong. Not so. You are going into a negotiation, and the rules are a little fuzzy. There may be laws that apply, but do you know them? Do you really think the kid behind the counter does? And does anyone really care? There’s store policy, but that usually has some leeway to it. And then there’s custom and convention, which are pretty weak guidelines at best.
So understand that you are not there to right some moral wrong. You have a situation you want resolved, one were you feel you were not treated fairly, and you have a specific preferred resolution in mind. That’s nice. You might even get that. But be open to the possibility that there are in fact laws, policies, or even customs and conventions that are going to work against or even completely prevent you getting exactly what you want. And that’s even assuming you are completely right about the situation, which I’ve seen all too many times isn’t the case.
So now what? Well, you can resort to screaming and demands and see how far that gets you (usually escorted out of the store), or you can be flexible. Oftentimes unless you are completely in the wrong store managers will prefer to find a negotiated middle ground where the customer walks away feeling satisfied, and you can use that fact to your advantage. If you were expecting a full refund, maybe a partial refund, or a discount on a future purchase or exchange. Be open to alternatives.
Be Firm – This goes hand in hand with being flexible. Unless you are completely in the wrong (in which case you should make as quick of a retreat as you can), stand by your guns. Don’t let the manager or anyone else try to bully or snowball you. I’ve seen plenty of times where they will pull out a circular or ad and say something like “that was last week’s sale” when they forgot to change the signage in the store, even though we both know their own store policy is to honor their posted prices.
There’s no need to be a dick about it, but make sure to stand your ground and be aware of your position. The best thing to do in these cases is to simply refuse to argue with them. If they pull out the circular, nod and say something like “I’m sure that’s the case, but the posted price on the shelf was different.” This way you aren’t engaging them, but you are refusing to be scared off as well. And notice: still polite. Eventually (if you are patient) they will likely offer some recompense. If you’re flexible, you should be able to get something satisfying.
UPDATE: Within a few days, I got a chance to test out my own advice. Check out what happened.
I’ve gone on at length before about young people starting out in jobs today, and truth be told my opinion hasn’t materially changed since then. I have been listening to stories from others, however, and I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: it isn’t just me. Everyone I talk to seems to feel the same way. And it isn’t just the employers, it’s the teachers too (I know more than a couple). This got me to thinking that maybe the problem, dear Brutus, lies not in our employees but in ourselves.
I remember back to when I was in high school and even elementary school (no, dinosaurs didn’t walk the Earth; we even had indoor plumbing), and I can remember being a part of the very leading edge of what has been cited by most of the teachers I have spoken with as the biggest issue of all: the Self-Esteem Movement. For those of you who are not familiar with this, it was the idea that no child should be made to feel bad about themselves, because children who have good self-esteem succeed. It should be self-evident that this is a matter of putting the cart before the horse, and if it isn’t then after a decade or so of bad results I would have expected they would have given it up, but from what I hear every child still gets a trophy (or a ribbon, or what have you).
I’ll admit, I was a little slow on the uptake with this one. I was thrilled to get a trophy at first. Granted, back then they still gave out different size trophies for first, second, third, and “congratulations, you showed up”, but still, I was thrilled to get one. Sue me, I was eight. A few years later when I got my first big boy trophy (for second place) I realized what a sham all the rest of them were, and the truth is it not only cheapened the “also ran” trophies, it even tarnished the big one a little. The idea that I had been feeling good about something that I never really earned took away from the real victory when I finally got it. I’ve heard some places get around this by giving everyone the same size trophies.
Likewise, I have heard tales of schools were students are not allowed to be given failing grades. I fail to see how this is in any way constructive. I was threatened with failure more than once in school, and let me tell you, it is an excellent motivator. Not only that, but life does not protect us from failure. Either we succeed or we do not, and while there may be a sliding scale of success in many cases, the absence of the possibility of failure is a luxury we are rarely afforded, so it is a poor lesson to impart at any age.
But I don’t want to reserve all of my vitriol for the school system. The fact is that as employers, in many cases, we are doing ourselves a disservice as well. When we interview employees, how often are we asked “what will this job entail?” To be honest, I get this question more often than you think, and to my shame, I don’t give nearly as honest a response as I should. Why? Because I actually want to hire someone, and if I told people what the job actually requires, nine times out of ten they wouldn’t take it. That’s not to say the job is abusive, but it’s not “big-thinking”, “creative”, “decision-making” stuff, at least in most cases. In most cases the work can be summed up in one word: spreadsheets.
So I do what everyone does: I soft-sell the job, try to oversell the good parts and downplay the bad parts instead of giving a full and honest accounting of what it’s going to be like, as if I’m a used car salesman and they’re the latest sucker – excuse me, customer to come on the lot. Then they take the job, because they don’t have the experience to ask the probing questions or see past the sunshine, and six months later they’re dissatisfied, disappointed, and despondent, and I’m none too thrilled with their performance. So who’s really to blame, them or me?
We’re saddling kids with an unrealistic understanding of how the world works before they enter the work force, and then giving them unrealistic expectations before they begin the job. After all that, we fault them for not succeeding. I’m not saying they shouldn’t take any responsibility for their own success (because it’s time we expect at least that much of them), but I do think it’s time we stop making it harder for them to succeed than it has to be.
Other posts you might like:
The Meaning of Education (guest post from My Not So Humble Wife)
The following are a list of observations defining life. Some are personal observations, while others are taken from outside sources. Thus, you might recognize some. Just because I didn’t notice it first doesn’t make it any less true.
- Hope was in Pandora’s box for a reason.
- No matter how good you think you are, there’s always someone faster, smarter, stronger and better. Moral: Don’t get cocky.
- Lest thou tempt the Fates, keep thy big mouth shut.
- It’s good to want things. It strengthens the soul.
- Anything is possible. Probable is another matter entirely.
- Always expect the worst. You’ll either be prepared or pleasantly surprised.
- There is no justice in the universe. The best you can hope for is revenge.
- A bad habit, once acquired, can never be lost, only replaced.
- Bitterness is the wellspring of creativity.
- It is morally wrong to let a fool keep his money.
- And it harm none, cover thy own ass shall be the whole of the law.
- Always start your day with a smile. Get it over with.
- If you never tried, you never failed.
- Be sure what you ask for is what you really want; you just might get it.
- There’s something to be said for ambiguity.
- The ease with which a man says “I love you” is inversely proportional to how much he means it.
- Violence is never the answer. it does, however, give you time to think about the answer.
- Polite conversation is anything but.
- Always have a good publicist, but never believe your own hype.
- A person’s guilt in any given situation is inversely proportional to the speed with which they deny it.
- Platitudes to the contrary not withstanding, even a coward dies but once.
- If you can’t stop in time, smile as you go under.
- When in doubt, lie. If you get caught, apologize. Never admit to doing it.
- It is better to look good than to feel good, and it is far better to feel good than to be good.
- Every man has his good reasons.
I was talking with a coworker not too long ago, and he asked me about how to achieve a better work-life balance. The truth is, there’s no silver bullet. There are some strategies and tactics that I’ve found useful, and I’ll share them with you here.
The first one (which I got from My Not So Humble Wife) is to make a list every day when you first get to work of three things you’re going to accomplish that day. Make sure it’s a realistic list; for example, don’t make “I’m going to finish Project X” one of those three things if you haven’t even started it yet and it’s a long-term project. Be aware of how long each list item will take, and set yourself up to succeed. If you accomplish all three things by 10 AM, great! You have the rest of the day to catch up on other things, or else get ahead on other work. If you have to stay until 8 PM to get them all done, then that’s what you need to do. If you find yourself staying until 8 PM on a regular basis, you either need to be more realistic about what you can accomplish in one day, or you need to figure out where all your time is going (usually it’s time thieves, which I address a little more later).
In terms of being able to accomplish those three tasks, honestly assess how long tasks take to finish and budget your time accordingly. Give yourself some leeway; if you think something is going to take 15 minutes, give yourself twenty minutes to do it. You never know when something is going to divert your attention or if something is going to go wrong, and if you always assume the best case scenario, you will constantly be running to catch up to a worst-case world. The extra time you budget will also help deal with those time thieves I mentioned earlier.
Those time thieves I mentioned? You all know who I’m talking about, mostly because we all do it to everyone else. Whether it’s the email that pops up and diverts our attention, the phone call we have to take, or even the person who pops by with “a quick question” or “just to chat”. Sometimes you can afford it, but other times you can’t. Be aware of where you stand on things, and if you’re in the middle of an important project where losing focus will cost you large amounts of productivity, politely but firmly let them know, “I’m sorry, I’m working on a very important project. Is this a critical issue or can I get back to you later?” In most cases it’s not a time sensitive matter, and as long as you follow up with them in a reasonable amount of time you’ll actually improve your reputation for professionalism. If you made sure to build in some extra time for your “three things”, you can also address anything that they believe is time sensitive without coming off as peevish or harried as well.
Another good tactic is to make sure not to schedule out your entire day. Instead, try to schedule out no more than 80% of your day. You’ll need to take breaks, check email, and there will be unexpected issues that come up that will need to be addressed immediately. Schedule time for breaks, but don’t screw around. “I need to brainstorm this project” might sound reasonable, but is it necessary? With that in mind, having a schedule, at least a framework, will help give you structure and an idea of what’s coming. In fact, the further out you can schedule things (whether it be a day, a week, or even a month or more) the more awareness you’ll have of coming events and the less likely you are to be blindsided by something. In my experience most of “putting out fires” is a matter of dealing with things that were foreseeable issues; solving problems before they have a chance to become problems not only saves aggravation, it saves time and money.
You should always know what you priorities are, and know the difference between “want” and “need”. Something you “need” to get done has to happen, without question. Things you “want” to happen are the things you get done with the time you have left and should be the first things to go. Your “need” list is always your top priority. If you cut out all of your “want” list and still don’t have enough resources to accomplish everything that’s left, either reconsider what you believe is a need, or else delegate some tasks or (if that’s not an option) discuss the matter with your supervisor. That’s what their job is, to make sure you’re able to succeed.
If you do find yourself in a position where you are constantly putting out fires and you don’t have an opportunity to get on top of things, the first step is to re-prioritize. Again, your supervisor can be an excellent resource for this. You should always know what your priorities are and in some cases, particularly when you don’t have sufficient resources to cover all the tasks at hand, you need to accept that some things are going to need to fall by the wayside. If you don’t have time to accomplish everything on your plate, again either delegate some tasks to someone else or talk with your supervisor.
I’ve mentioned delegating a couple of times. When delegating tasks, the most important thing to remember is that the goal is important, not the process. Everyone approaches a project in a different way, and as long as the end result is satisfactory, how they got there is unimportant (within reason). Be honest with yourself about the goal; I have occasionally found myself saying “my goal is to have this task done in this way”, when the truth is I was focusing on the process rather than the product. This is likely to frustrate both you and the person you assign the task to, and result in a case where you waste more resources farming the project out than if you had just done it yourself. If having something done a certain way truly is the goal, what you likely have is multiple tasks that cumulatively roll up to a project. Separate the goal from the tasks, and trust people to accomplish the tasks in their own way. Feel free to verify that they accomplished their individual portion, but as long as the work got done right and well, don’t let your attention be devoured riding people while they do the work they were hired to do.
While this may seem like a lot, it’s actually not. What it comes down to is knowing your priorities, planning accordingly, and using your resources effectively. If you can accomplish that much, the rest should fall into place.
I don’t remember how old I was when I started drinking caffeine. I can’t remember being so young that I wasn’t sneaking Cokes every chance I got, even if it meant finishing off the half-flat cans my Dad would leave sitting half-empty on the coffee table from the night before. It was in high school I started drinking coffee, and just out of high school I started smoking. Of the two, I’ve actually found quitting caffeine harder, although not by much (and not that I’ve tried many times).
I’ve quit smoking three times in my life. Every time I quit I go through the same stages. First there’s what I think of as Queen High Bitch phase. I’m not a nice person to be around for a couple weeks (even more so than usual). Around the third week or so I just get a little jumpy and surly, but I’m at least a little tolerable. By week four I’ve calmed down enough that people can talk to me, and after that I start to slowly adjust to life without nicotine. It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me when I say it’s the longest month you’ll ever experience, and the next few aren’t stellar either. The patch doesn’t help (ironically, it has too much nicotine) and the pills make me jittery (I started smoking more to calm my nerves), so I just have to white knuckle my way through it.
The first time I went a month and a half. I had lost my license (I was a terrible leadfoot when I was younger) and couldn’t get out for cigarettes, so I just gave it up. As soon as my friends started taking pity on me and got me out of the house, that went the way of the dodo. The second time lasted a year and a half. I was doing fine until I lost my job, and even then I did okay for six months until boredom got the best of me. Smoking was at least something to do.
The last time I can clearly remember seriously giving up smoking was the hardest. I quit a little over a year ago, and I was doing pretty good. Then I found out my father was in the hospital, and things were looking bad. I’m not using that as an excuse, mind you, but it was what pushed me over the edge. I couldn’t take the stress. Ironic in a sad sort of way, but there it is. And here I am, a year later, smoking as much and drinking as much caffeine as I was before I quit a little over a year ago.
I was talking with my Mom on the phone the other day, and she asked me to write a blog post that would get her to go on a diet (sorry for outing you, Mom). Here’s the secret to quitting smoking, giving up caffeine, getting more exercise, or going on a diet: there is no secret. Despite what an entire industry of self-help books and many, many weight loss programs, gyms, and “experts” will try to sell you, there is no magic bullet. The only way to do it is to decide for yourself that this is a change you want in your own life, for you, and to stick with it, no matter what.
I know that sounds simple, and that’s because it is. Please do not make the mistake of confusing simple with easy. Rolling a two-ton boulder up a hill is a simple task; ask Sisyphus just how easy it is. Ultimately however there is no substitute; no matter how many pills, patches, or plans you use, it will always come back to that one simple thing, that one choice you have to make every day (and sometimes several times a day). As Master Yoda put it, “Do, or do not; there is no try.”
If you make that change for someone else, you are shifting the burden to them, and sooner or later they will do something that will make you want to “punish” them. If you do it for some reward, you will hold out until you get the reward, and then go back to your old habits. If you set a goal of “I just need to hold out until…” you’ll make it that long and maybe a bit longer, but then what? You have to acknowledge that what you are seeking is real change, and change is hard.
Is it worth it? That’s up to you to decide. But then, that’s the whole point.
She’s got a taste for it now. There’s no stopping her. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, My Not So Humble Wife.
No parent or educator is trying to teach kids that money will make you happy, but I think we are inadvertently doing just that. Early in elementary school children are inundated with the importance of going to college. In middle school, the grades where I teach math, kids worry about taking the right classes and getting good grades so they can take college credit advanced classes in high school and get into a good college. It’s a huge focus of their little lives. The problem is when you ask them why college is such an important goal, their reasoning leads to an unhealthy place.
I’m nearing the end of my Master’s in Education and became interested in student motivation. I wanted to know why students felt education was important and what inspired them to succeed in school. So I conducted some simple interviews with a variety of students both officially and unofficially. I asked a simple question, “why is education important?”, and unfailingly it lead to the same basic discussion:
Me: Why is education important to you?
Student: It’s important so you can go to college.
Me: OK, Then why is going to college important?
Student: …<hesitation> So you can get a good job?
Me: And why is getting a good job important?
Student: …….<more hesitation> So you can make good money?
Me: Why is making good money important?
At this point most students became visible uncomfortable, shifting their weight, looking around, and fidgeting. While some students might eventually shrug and say they didn’t know, the majority said that making good money was important so they could have the things they want, some said that’s what it means to be successful, while others said it was important so they could be happy.
Truth be told, I was asking these kids some really hard questions. Questions that they had probably not even considered before and that many adults would struggle with. That said, I’m worried that kids are getting the point but missing the message.
Have you ever thought about why you want your kids or family to go to college? Hopefully, it’s not just about getting a job that pays enough for that McMansion in the burbs. I want my students to pursue a college education so they will have choices. Having an education means that you have the opportunity to find a vocation that you feel passionate about instead of having to take any job that presents itself. Yes, it’s important to be able to support yourself but a college education gives you a better chance at enjoying the process of earning a living.
So next time you’re talking to your kids about college make sure they know that getting a good job means getting a job they will enjoy or that is important to them. That college gives them the chance for expanding their choices for the life they want to live. That it’s not about the money, it’s about living a life they will find fulfilling.
The other night I was in my “Literature of the Asian Diaspora” class (it’s amazing what qualifies for an English degree these days) when we started discussing the origin of the term “Asian American”. Apparently the first academic use of the term was in the 1970s at UCLA (although it may have been in use colloquially among the civil rights movement in the 1960s before that) as an alternative to the arguably pejorative “Oriental” (I take no stance on the issue, but I understand the argument).
The point I raised in class, and my professor seemed to agree with me, is that “Asian American” is a constructed identity. Setting aside any flippant comments about there being no such place as “Asian America”, there is no “Asian” culture. There is Japanese culture, Korean culture, Chinese culture, Indian culture, and a host of others too numerous for me to name or even be aware of. Each individual named under this broad, constructed identity of “Asian American” does not partake of the same cultural background, any more than every person of European descent comes from the same cultural heritage.
I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit over the last few days, mostly because I find it something challenging to relate to. On the one hand, as I have mentioned before, I come from perhaps the most common of backgrounds, and face few of the challenges that an Asian American or other racial minority would face in America today (although from what I have read it’s a far different story in Japan or elsewhere in Asia, so at least it’s not a global phenomenon). On the other hand, the concept of trying to construct an identity for oneself is something I believe everyone struggles with, and as the world is changing perhaps faster than ever, it is something that we each continue to struggle with.
For myself, I can look back over my life and see how my own sense of self has changed drastically in just a short (or so it seems to me) twenty years. When I was 15, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be a world famous actor, working the stage with both grace and abandon on Broadway and beyond. Fast forward a decade, and after one of the worst years of my life I was burning almost every bridge I had, leaving Richmond and unsure of anything except that I would never, ever be a professional actor. I kept my hand in on a few amateur shows in school after that, but my heart wasn’t really in it anymore. Jump ahead another decade, and I had been married for three years to the love of my life, who I hadn’t even met when last we checked in, and working at the job I currently hold.
Each step of the way my sense of self changed, but it was a gradual change, with the occasional jarring moment of realization. At no point did I wake up and say “today I’m going to decide I no longer want to be an actor”; it was something that accumulated, just like the choices, opportunities, and yes, even the mistakes I have made all along the way have led me to the place and person I am today. Perhaps that is what we call the process of “growing up”, or perhaps it is something more. I don’t know if being a straight white male means that process has been easier or harder for me, because I have no basis for comparison. I can say almost unequivocally that having bipolar disorder (undiagnosed before I was in my mid-twenties) certainly provided its own unique challenges, but again I can’t speak to how my life would have been different otherwise, only that I do not doubt it would have been.
As I have reflected on my life and how it has changed, and as I have considered how I have constructed and re-constructed my own identity, I have only come to one certain conclusion. I do not want to be viewed as a heterosexual, or a Caucasian, or male, or as someone with a mental disorder, or as part of any other group. I only want to be viewed as me; unique, individual, hopefully ever-changing and evolving and yet always recognizably Bob.