Dear Karl Marx,
I have a question about blind dates. I haven’t been on the dating scene in a long time, and I’m not sure how to handle things. I’ve heard that the guy is supposed to pay for dinner, but I’m still struggling to get out from under some pretty horrendous student loans, and I can’t afford to be taking out a lot of girls I don’t even know, especially if things end up going nowhere. On the other hand, I don’t want to look cheap. What’s a guy to do?
Struggling in the New Economy
It is truly disheartening to hear that even in this day and age the forms of capital are being used as a symbol of control in relationships rather than existing as a means to advance a fellowship of well-being and understanding. Ah, well; such is the way of the world until society is changed. In the meantime, I would advise you to reach out to those of your contemporaries who are of a similar understanding, building those relationships that you can gradually and with time, rather than with displays of bourgeois largesse. Perhaps meet her for a cup of coffee and discuss common interests so you can get to know her as a person; if she truly is a part of the struggle of the proletariat, she won’t mind going dutch.
Dear Thomas Jefferson,
I’ve got a serious problem and I’ pretty sure only you can help. I was at a party a few weeks ago, I got kind of drunk, and I ended up hooking up with this girl. Thing is, she wasn’t my girlfriend. I feel awful about it, but I don’t know what to do. I haven’t told my girlfriend about it, and I’m wondering if I should. I really love her, and I think she’d forgive me, but would it be right?
Too Much Southern Comfort
Dear Southern Man,
When you choose to overindulge in spirits, there is a race to determine whether you run out of wisdom or honor first; the only certainty, as you have found, is that you will lose. In this instance, your impulse to unburden your conscience to your long-suffering significant other is not one born out of compassion, but rather one of guilt and further self-indulgence. The only course of action open to you at this point is to bear the knowledge of your misdeeds alone; keep your own counsel on this matter of impropriety, and let history be your judge.
Dear Sigmund Freud,
I’ve been with this girl for a while now, and things are getting pretty serious. I’m starting to think she might be The One. But how do you tell? I mean, I’m talking about making a commitment for the rest of my life. How can you be sure about something like that?
Ready to Make the Leap
It is understandable that you are hesitant about such a major life change, and decisions of such gravity bring a great deal of internal strife to everyone. Before settling on a course of action, explore your motivations; consider what might be driving you to take your relationship to this new and deeper level. Is it this girl in particular that makes you feel ready for a lifelong commitment, or are you simply responding to a suppressed need yet unfulfilled? While you’re at it, take a good look at her mother, because that’s what you’ll be married to in twenty years.
Dear Abraham Lincoln,
I’ve been married for a few months now, and I’m worried our life has gotten to be kind of routine. I want to mix things up a little bit, try to get “out of the rut”, but I’m not sure how. Do you have any suggestions of some fun, adventurous things we can do together?
Looking for Adventure
Dear Citizen of the Republic,
While I certainly respect and admire your desire to preserve the union you have with your wife, I wonder if you have given full thought to the many options available to you. While the drive for glory may seem attractive now, it soon pales before the simpler pleasures of hearth and home. May I suggest instead a special night in? Cook your new wife dinner; make some light conversation; perhaps a game of charades. Going out on the town is overrated.
Dear Mr. Napolean,
I had this guy I really liked and I thought he liked me to and I had a friend who was supposed to ask him if he liked me so I could find out if he liked me like I liked him but instead she asked him if he liked her and now they’re going together and I’m sad. Even worse all my other freinds arent talking to me because I said she was a poopyhead. What should I do?
Dear Mademoiselle Jennifer,
I also understand the pain of betrayal; to feel as if you are the emperor of the world one moment and a mere exile from all that you know the next. But fear not! With sufficient effort and planning, you can stage a coup d’etat against those who rule your current circumstances, and once again take your rightful place in your social circle. Make use of what you know about those who stand against you, and do not hesitate to spread their most shameful secrets to the world. Press your advantage ruthlessly, and crush them utterly. Do not forget that this is war; you do this not out of revenge, but to teach a lesson to others who might be tempted to stand against you, and to prevent further battle in the days to come.
There’s a girl I go to college with that I’d really like to get to know better. We take a few classes together, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask her out yet. I’m not sure if she’d be interested in me, and I’d be devastated if she turned me down. Should I go for it, or should I just try to stay friends?
It is well that you are in college, for the pursuit of knowledge is in itself a part of the path of virtue. It is however only one part; self-knowledge, the cultivation of virtue, and filial duty also play their roles. If you are a true gentleman, what woman would refuse you? You say you have classes in common; surely that is something you can use as a place to start a meaningful interaction. Failing that, try taking her father out for a round of golf.
Somehow, despite all my worst efforts, I’ve ended up supervising quite a few people over the past several years, as well as observing more than a few more come through this and other companies I’ve worked at. Between this and my own personal experiences (read: “the horrible mistakes I made and all the advice I never listened to just like you will not listen to me”) I’ve come to realize there are certain common traits that separate the people who will continue to advance and thrive from the people who will simply drift from one meaningless job to the next, only to inevitably end up complaining that the world isn’t fair. In order to empower you and prevent you, dear readers, from becoming one of those benighted souls, I offer these insights I have gleaned from my years on both sides of the managerial fence.
I Know It’s Boring, Just Do It Already. Here’s a little wake up call for you, sunshine: if your job weren’t 90% suck, I wouldn’t have to pay you to do it, you would do it for free. If it were 90% fun, YOU would be paying ME. So please, stop telling me how much the work I’ve given you sucks/is boring/is beneath you/is a waste of your time/skills/degree/god given talent/I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass. The simple fact is, the people who do what I ask them to do, do it well, and don’t complain are the ones I will come to when I need something else done, including the fun projects, and the complainers are the first ones to get cut when the budget axe comes down.
My Job Is Boring, Too. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Yeah, cupcake, here’s the reality of the workplace: the reason I gave you all that boring stuff to do is so I could have time and mental capacity to focus on my own load of boring stuff. See, I have more experience, more institutional knowledge, more work relationships, and more understanding of how to get things done. That means that for every boring project you’re working on, I have three, only I don’t get to see them through to completion. Instead, I have to nurse them along just far enough that I can hand them off to someone else that I can only hope will bring them through to completion in a manner I find satisfactory, because if they don’t then I get yelled at for their failure. That’s called responsibility, and it’s what I really get paid for.
Take Responsibility. The people who get promoted are the people who get things done. If you can’t, come to me before the deadline and before you run out of money so we can come up with a solution. This makes you look like a problem solver. Why you didn’t get the project done on time, on budget, after the fact, is of no interest to me.
Do It Right The First Time. I shouldn’t have to say this, but somehow I do. I can’t count the number of people I have had to train in the simple fact that details matter. It’s not just about the task at hand, this goes to my overall perception of you. It’s like this: when I have a new project of critical importance, who do you think I’m going to give it to: the guy who treated his last project with a shrug and a “whatever” attitude, or the one who treated it like his job depended on it? Even if the project at hand is simple data entry, the next one might not be, and how you do on this one will shape my perception of how you will do every other task I give you.
This Isn’t Social Hour. Maybe you heard that “networking” was the way to get ahead. Maybe you never grew out of chatting with your friends in high school. Maybe you’re just naturally gregarious. Whatever it is, if every time I see you I see you talking to someone instead of getting something done, that’s the image I have of you. That’s not to say you can’t be sociable at work, but it is to say that you need to understand why you’re there, and socializing isn’t the number one reason. It’s not even in the top five.
Innovate, Don’t Inundate. Truth is I’m always open to a good idea. I welcome them. The problem is that everyone, and I mean everyone I’ve seen come into a new company throws out a new idea within a week of starting there. I’ve done it myself. I guess the urge to impress your new boss is just too strong, or maybe we all just feel like “Well, they hired me for a reason.” The problem is this is the height of hubris. This presumes you understand the company and position you are in so well within a week that your idea will have merit and strength sufficient to be worthy of consideration and implementation. Now take this hubris and multiply it by the number of ideas you’ve thrown out in the amount of time you’ve been at your current job, and divide it by the number of months you’ve been there. For most people who have been at a job for less than a year, this ratio will be roughly “holy/shit!” Even if there’s a good idea in there somewhere, I’m not going to notice it because I’m too busy ignoring everything you say. Wait for the right idea to come along, put it out there, and let others decide its relative merit.
Be Patient, And Have Realistic Expectations. There’s a great line in Fight Club that I think we can all learn from: “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t.” I take a different lesson from this than the movie intended, but I do take a lesson away from it, and I hope you will to: you can have the corner office, you can have the six figure salary, you can have the respect of your peers and the adulation of the masses… but you won’t have it today. Tomorrow’s not looking good either. You’re gonna have to work your way up to them, slowly, bit by bit, and even once you get there, if you get there, there’s no guarantees there will be anything more beyond it – or that it’s even what you wanted in the first place. Life’s like that. So think about it, now and along the way. Be sure you know what your options are, and know what you’re giving up, because there are damn few second chances, and nobody gets a third.
“Life’s not fair.” These are the words of wisdom my mother greeted me with every time I was a child and I had a complaint about some new injustice that had been visited upon me. (To be fair, I preferred this to her more often used “go play in traffic” or “take a long walk off a short pier”, but I digress.) I have since come to understand that in her own Long Island way she was trying to toughen me up and prepare me for a cruel and uncaring world. (I think. I’m still not sure about the traffic thing.)
Since then I have had good days and bad days, and then I have had “Oh dear GOD seriously WTF?!?” days. These latter have reminded me more than once of mom’s admonition when I was a child, and after I got done playing in traffic, I would then remember that she also had other important life lessons to share and try to find strength through the adversity. There are certain key things I have since found that, by keeping them in mind, have helped me to get through even the most trying of days.
Some days are just going to suck. Accept it now. This may not seem comforting, but the truth is it helps. Once you accept that there is nothing you can do about it, that the cards are all stacked against you and fighting against it is simply a waste of time and energy, it becomes a lot easier to just go with the flow. That’s not to say you should take individual events lying down; rather just that you need to accept that today is going to be “one of those days”, and not try to somehow make it a good one.
It’s not personal. Even when it feels like the entire universe has singled you out to be picked on today, chances are that’s not the case (and if it is, I strongly suggest you give Ashton Kutcher a good shot in the mouth when he jumps out to tell you “you’ve been Punk’d!” So has your career, Ashton.) Most of the people around you who are getting on your nerves are just trying to get through their own mediocre-to-awful day, and I promise that they are not trying to make your day worse, so taking it out on them will not help… no matter how good you think it might feel.
Taking it out on someone else will not make you feel better. Since you have the discriminating taste and class to read this, I am assuming you’re not a raging asshole, so I feel safe in making this prediction. In a heated moment you might think you’ll get some satisfaction in making someone else pay for adding to your already steaming pile of a day, but in all likelihood you’re just going to walk away feeling a little worse for having gone off for no good reason. You’re also going to leave them with a bad impression of you, which is likely to make tomorrow (or a future day) worse, if they don’t just decide to serve their revenge piping hot.
There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. I don’t mean to endorse over-indulgence here (I prefer to endorse that all on its own), but when things are already in the toilet, why put yourself through the added misery of denial? Treats are just that, and sometimes you need one. Have some ice cream. Pour a glass of wine. Go see a movie. When the world refuses to cut you a break, cut yourself a slice of pie.
That’s what friends are for. Real friends aren’t the people you go drinking with when you are in a good mood. They are the people you call when you need to complain about your bad mood. Great friends are the ones who take you out drinking so you can complain about your bad mood and then pick up the check.
Every day ends. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how long it feels, the one redeeming virtue of every bad day is that it only last 24 hours. Even if the bad carries over into the next day, there’s always the chance that this new day will only be mediocre rather than a true crapfest. And even if things don’t improve, the new day is still only 24 hours long.
Wait for “the cherry”. You’ll know the cherry when it happens: that last, little thing that isn’t nearly so bad as the rest, more of a finisher, the topping that just says, “And now your shit sundae is complete.” Once you have experienced this transcendent moment, you can at least start to look forward to the inevitable dénouement to the dramarama your day has been thus far.
There’s always tomorrow. Yes, it’s cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. This one exists to remind us that so long as we live, there is a chance of some good balancing out the bad, and even if life isn’t fair, that doesn’t mean it can’t get better.
Among some of my family and friends I have a slight reputation as a know-it-all. Among the rest I have a huge reputation as an arrogant ass who thinks he has the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. (It’s 42. I read Douglas Adams.) I’d like to think this is an unfair characterization born out of jealousy of my awesome awesomeness. I’d also like to think I have a face like Matthew McConaughey, a body like Brad Pitt, and the intellectual acumen of Stephen Hawking. So I’ll let you be the judge of which of us is right.
The point, however, is that regardless of my reputation in this regard, my family and friends are generally too polite to make an issue of it, even when I start to go off an one of my infrequent rants. I am of course using the colloquial definition of “infrequent”, that being “the length of time that casts the speaker in the best light, usually a modest one.” I particularly appreciate this as I have reached a much more mellow middle age (no, I am not using a colloquial definition of mellow, I really used to be worse) and have come to appreciate the value of politeness.
In my brash youth, I didn’t really see the value of politeness for its own sake. It always seemed to me to be more a matter of hypocrisy; after all, when you are being nice to someone you would rather spit in their eye, how is that NOT hypocritical? It was only after I had spent some serious time in the corporate world (and if you don’t think that’s a culture all its own, you’ve never lived in it) that I started to understand the value of politeness. I found there that politeness was a tool, nothing more and nothing less, and like any tool the value of it consists entirely in what you make with it.
Politeness doesn’t exist, as I thought it did when I was younger, for its own sake. Nor does it merely separate us from the animals, as I have heard some people assert. Rather, I have found that politeness is the oil that keeps society as frictionless as possible. It is the “civil” in “civil society.” Consider: polite conversation doesn’t allow for religion or politics as topics. I look around these days and realize that’s not a coincidence. Not to put too fine a point on it, politeness is what makes it possible for us to coexist with the people we would rather not have to coexist with. Whether it’s in the workplace or the marketplace, at school or at church, there’s always someone you just can’t stand, chances are they return the favor, and politeness is the only thing standing between the two of you and a date with destiny.
That’s not to say we always have to be polite. Sometimes it’s time to get impolite. After all, I would hardly refer to a good protest march as “polite.” Your typical rock concert hardly measures up to the realm of “polite”. And God knows any conversation with my close friends will never be within seven dirty words of being “polite.” But those are the stand out moments, the exceptions, not the rules, and should be cherished more for it, not less. But when we start turning every day into a protest, when every night is a concert, and every conversation would make George Carlin blush (bless his smutty departed self), we lose something priceless. It’s not just a matter of losing the “specialness” or those moments. We’re losing our dignity as a society.
Our current culture of brashness that seems to reward the braggart, the loudmouth, the shock jock and the bully-pulpit preacher both, the people who drag their politics and opinions out at every turn instead of confining them to opinion columns and blogs where they belong; it needs to stop. We need to – not step up, but step back. Not speak up, but quiet down. Take our fingers off the hyperbolic trigger and for once, don’t let our voices be heard. Just let it go. Stop feeding the trolls.
So today I’m going to sound off on a topic near and dear to my heart, having spent far too long (two months) suffering through a life of retail hell: customer service. I understand that actually having to deal with the common hoi polloi that inhabit this globe on a daily basis for no better reason than to keep body and soul together is a tragedy that befalls far too many people, but is it too much to ask that when your entire business model relies on people actually wanting to purchase your products, you maybe consider this to be something more than the awful afterthought that comes between “thanks for your money, sucker!” and “Welcome back, sucker, gonna give us some more of your money?”
A good example of customer service is Mattress Discounters. We bought a Temper-Pedic bed there. They delivered exactly when they said they would, and let me tell you, getting it into our bedroom at all was no easy feat. I highly recommend them to one and all. That’s great customer service, and it deserves to be rewarded.
Bad customer service, on the other hand, deserves to be called out in public, put in the stocks in the public square, pilloried and ridiculed, humiliated as they humiliate us.
As my case study, I will use a six month odyssey that recently befell my entire household. In order to avoid a potential lawsuit, the company involved will not be called on by name. I will simply mention that they are a retail home improvement store who rhyme with Beers and start with S. You may have seen their softer side in the Nineties. Anyway, my landlord prefers them for appliances (although I still hold out hope that this recent experience may sway him to consider changing to a more sane alternative. It’s not likely.) The whole story begins with the attempt to get the oven repaired. This required two trips, as the first trip involved finding out that the oven was, indeed, broken, but the repairman didn’t have the part with him. This trip took two weeks to arrange in the first place. The follow-up, with the correct part, took another two weeks. A week later, the oven broke again. This necessitated another two week wait, at which point we found out that the oven was, in fact, broken. This came as a shock to all and sundry, assuming that “all and sundry” is code for “only the Sbeers repairman.” He then informed us that the cost of repairing the oven at this point would be higher than replacing it, and I informed him that he could have come to this conclusion two visits ago. (Okay, maybe only in my head, but I thought it really hard.)
Believe it or not, this was one of the better interactions of our customer service experience with Sbeers in what I can only assume, from what you will see below, was a deliberate campaign of terror against us. Notice how he lured us in by being almost as helpful as someone who actually intends to be useful without actually making our lives better in any meaningful way. This set the standard for the following FOUR MONTHS. It all started with the new oven. The oven my landlord bought. I should note that my landlord lives in a different house than I do. This should come as no surprise to you kind folk, as I assume that all of my readers are intelligent, sagely, wise folk with reasoning powers that at least match those of gerbils. Apparently the same cannot be said for the people at Sbeers, who cannot distinguish between a billing address and a delivery address. This would be annoying once. It would be comical twice. It would be infuriating three times. Round about the fourth time in two months it got to seeming diabolical and deliberate.
What impressed me most of all was their utter failure to have any sort of coordination in their attempts to infuriate me, and yet they still did it with ease. It seems that nobody at Sbeers talks directly to anyone else, or even to the same customer more than once. I’m not entirely certain anyone in their customer service department works there more than once. After they got my street address connected to my landlord’s city and state, I found out that they didn’t even have one delivery company. No, Sbeers doesn’t deliver the stuff they sell, they subcontract it to people who are even more incompetent than they are.
This incompetence shines through in ways I can’t even describe, I can only report it. It begins with the first (yes I said first) attempt to install our new oven. After the oven was installed, there was a piece left. I wasn’t home at the time, so I have to rely on second hand reports from my wife, but as I understand it the conversation went something like this:
My Beautiful Wife: “Why is there a piece left?”
Installation Guy: “I dunno.”
My Incredibly Intelligent Wife: “What are you going to do about it?”
“Installation Guy: “I dunno.”
My Wonderful Wife Who Dealt With Sbeers Customer Service So I Wouldn’t Have To: “Shit.”
I may have gotten the details slightly wrong, but that was the basic gist of it. So for the next month and a half, we had a piece of oven sitting in our kitchen while my wife tried to get Sbeers to send someone out to correct the situation. This resulted in three aborted attempts, one because they were trying to go to the wrong state (again), one because they wanted me to pay for the visit(!), and then there was my personal favorite…
You see, the best the original delivery guy could come up with was that we had the wrong part for the oven. The part that came in the box. With the oven. That he had just installed. The solution of course was to simply deliver a completely different oven and install that one. Now, one Saturday (after they had rescheduled for the third time that week) I got a call from the delivery guy telling me he had an oven to deliver. I said, “You mean install, right?” No, no, no. They only deliver. The installation guy comes later.
I actually called bullshit on him, right there and then. And he, poor guy, had to have his supervisor call me, ’cause his job is just to drive the truck and drop off the appliances. And I called bullshit on his supervisor, too. When he asked me point blank if I wanted the oven or not, I asked him, “Would you want an oven sitting in your living room?” He had the grace to admit he would not. “Nor would I.” That pretty much ended that conversation.
And here’s how the story ends: two weeks later (after two more reschedulings), a guy came out to deliver and install the new oven… and he installed the “leftover” part correctly.
Son. Of. A. Bitch.
So yeah. Customer service. Just get it right. If you do, you get a nice blurb and a free product endorsement. If you get it wrong, you get a 1,000 word rant talking about how much you suck. And yeah, I’m talking to you, Sbeers.
If you have kids, let’s save you and me both some time and aggravation right now: please go to Facebook and see what your friends are up to. Come back in a couple days when I’ve posted something else. Anything else.
No, really. I’m not joking. You’re just going to make both of us very unhappy if you don’t leave right now.
Okay, either they left or they completely ignored me the same way they’re busy ignoring their children right now, and either way I refuse to take responsibility for their bad decisions. The reason I told them (you) to leave is because I’ve decided it’s time I call them (you) out on some of the horrible, reprehensible, idiotic behavior that used to be considered inappropriate in bachelors and now passes for modern parenting. This is not to say all parents do these things, or that all parents who do some of these things do all of these things; but the fact is that any of these things make me wonder (a) why people are allowed to even have children and (b) how our species has managed to evolve past the level of flinging poo at each other (which is one of the behaviors I have been observing of late, so….)
The first thing I need to call out is the new parents who come into work acting bewildered at how tired they are. They come in looking like soldiers straight out of a really bad WWI film, shell-shocked look and all, and if you dare even so much as a “How you doin’?” you get treated to the vacant stare and “The baby kept me up… ALL… NIGHT. AGAIN.” They say this as if it comes as a shock to them, like nobody ever prepared them for this eventuality. Really? That’s funny. Because ever since I was, oh, nine years old stand-up comics have been pretty much giving me a preview of the sorts of things I can expect from fatherhood, and I’m pretty sure it involves not sleeping from the day the baby is born until his or her fifth birthday. This is also the sort of parent who acts like the baby just happened to them, and there’s nothing they could have done about it. No, no, it’s cool, I can understand that. Nothing you could have done. You had no power in this situation. It’s not like you brought it on yourself by HAVING SEX OR ANYTHING.
Contrast this with the stolid parent, the one who more closely resembles the sergeant in my WWI analogy. This is the one who comes in, maybe looking a bit haggard, a little rough around the edges, but still functional. They grab a cup of coffee, and if you ask how they are, they may give you a bit of a look, but the worst answer you get will be a curt “fine.” Dig a little deeper at your own risk, but that’s the same with anyone. If you do, you might hear “the baby kept me up last night.” Usually in a monotone. Not as a complaint, but a simple statement of fact.
The next one I need to rip on is parents who make excuses for their kids. I know I’m jumping on a bandwagon here, but I just have to get it out there. I’m not talking about parents who say things like “Junior is very sweet, he’s just a little slow” when their kid has serious neurological problems. I’m talking about parents who say “Junior is just very exuberant” when he’s busy setting fire to the curtains. I’m not saying you need to grab a switch and beat his ass, but maybe taking the lighter out of his hand would be a good place to start. Scold him a little. Sit him down and explain the difference between right and wrong. Then when he’s not looking, grab a switch and beat his ass. It’ll do him a world of good.
How about parents who take their kids’ word over, well, ANYONE else? I don’t even need Bill Cosby to explain to me that kids lie, although he does do a very humorous job of it. Know why I don’t need The King of Coke to lay this one out for me? Because faster than you can say “Pudding Pop”, I remember being a kid. That’s right, just one little flashback and suddenly I’m fully aware of the fact that “scrupulous veracity” wasn’t only beyond me as a spelling challenge as a child, it was beyond me as an ethical challenge as well, and the truth is (if you’ll pardon the egregious pun) most kids have the same problem. And yet most parents will believe their own children not only in a case of “he said, she said” over another child, but over an adult and even over a crowd. Some will even stand next to their own kids in the face of physical evidence to the contrary. That’s not loyalty; that’s insanity.
And hey, speaking of insanity, when did people start growing their own friends? Parents who want to be “buddies” with their kids at any age, whether it is as little kids or (even worse) teenagers, make me want to spray them down with a hose. When did it become acceptable to stop raising children and start treating them as equals? The parents I respect are the ones who are tough but fair, they love their kids but make it clear that the relationship goes one way, and you can have all the autonomy you want when you’re eighteen and you get a job, join the military, or get your ass in college. You want something cuddly you can alternate between cleaning up after and treating like your best friend for the next ten years? Get a dog. That’s what I did.
Finally, I need to get serious for a moment and talk about an issue close to my own heart. Lots of people are coming out against bullying these days. It’s all the rage, and everyone is against it. Kind of hard not to be, right? Being “for” bullying is like being in favor of kicking puppies. But the kids who are doing the bullying aren’t orphans, they’re not robots, and they weren’t grown in a vat somewhere. Every one of them has a parent or even two who have either ignored or, even worse, encouraged the very behavior they publically denounce. Whether you realize it or not, your kids see everything you do and say, and they pick up on things you didn’t even know they were paying attention to. More to the point, it’s not up to the school, the teachers, the police, or someone else to stop your kid from being a bully. It’s up to you. When you see them picking on another kid, step up. Be a parent. You might save another kid’s life. You might save your own kid’s life.
I’ve been privileged to work in and around offices for the better part of the last twenty years, and in that time I’ve developed somewhat of a philosophy on appropriate office decorum. I call it a philosophy because, like most kinds of philosophy, it doesn’t seem to have any place in the world today or really any bearing on the world as it actually exists. But I’m going to share it with you anyway. Attire, attitude, and behavior; made simple, these are the three elements to appropriate office decorum. The subtleties and complexities of each are what seem to elude so many people in the modern American office.
First let’s cover attire, and I chose that wording deliberately. Ladies, I’m looking at you. Hell, I can’t help it, it’s not like you leave me many other options. I have no idea when it became de rigueur to wear the most revealing outfit you can get away with (or can’t…), but believe me when I say you aren’t doing your career any favors. Look at it this way: when you are delivering that presentation you spent weeks putting together, do you want me paying attention to your work or your – ahem − assets? Think about it, because the choice you make will define how you’re viewed for a long time to come.
Guys, don’t think I don’t have something to say to you as well. Just because “Casual Friday” has turned into “I Never Have to Wear a Suit Ever Weekday” doesn’t mean you can get away with murder. Buy a button-up shirt, consider wearing khakis now and again, and make damn sure you actually DO own a suit that fits and looks good, because the day is going to come you have an important meeting and you want to look like you showed up for it. On that note, keep a neutral tie in your desk. It doesn’t take long to put it on, and it dresses up almost any outfit. Even a basic button down shirt and jeans looks better with a tie.
Here’s a couple dressing hints that cut both ways. First, if you aren’t sure how to dress, overdress a little; people will rarely fault you for it, and they will always fault you for being underdressed. Besides, some of the best advice I ever got was “it’s a lot easier to take off a jacket you don’t need than to pull one out of thin air when you do need it.”
Next, LOSE THE DAMN FLIP FLOPS. Yes girls, that includes you. I don’t care how cute they are, they’re impractical and unprofessional. Guys who wear flip flops to work deserve to be hauled off to the nearest stocks and beaten on their improperly protected feet. Grow up, frat boy. Only one step up from this noxious practice is people who wear sneakers to the office on a regular basis. When you own the company you may feel free to wear whatever you want. Until then, try putting on some adult shoes when you leave the house in the morning.
The next step is attitude. When I was younger I used to do some acting, and there was an adage that went something to the tune of “leave your baggage at the stage door.” This is a wonderful notion that was never respected but often should have been, and would benefit the world of business greatly. Because here’s the great big secret of business that they never tell you in school, and I’m going to share it with you right now, so pay close attention: nobody cares. Not a morning person? Guess what cupcake, nobody cares. Boyfriend broke up with you? Sorry sunshine, nobody cares. Feeling hung over from partying all night? Sing it with me in the key of C, nobody cares!
What’s even worse is that most of the time even if somebody seems like they care, they’re just being polite, which gives you the false impression that it’s okay to bring your personal problems to work with you. It’s really not. This isn’t a therapy office, unless you work in a therapist’s office, in which case you aren’t getting paid to be in therapy so please wait your turn. The proper attitude at work is one of engaged interest. Try to show up every day ready to be an active participant, whether you really feel it or not, and give it an honest effort.
Finally, proper office behavior. I could do an entire post on proper (or improper) office behavior and still not cover even the most offensive behaviors. So I’ll just touch on the ones that bother me the most:
Gossip is not a valid means of communication. At best it is confusing and misleading. At worst it is divisive, cruel, and hurtful. If you don’t believe me, ask any girl over the age of five. I’m not saying don’t chat with others, and I understand that some information has to be kept in confidence. But consider it like this: would you say what you just said to anybody who has a right to hear it to their face? If not, then why did you say it?
Use your indoor voice. If I can hear you from down the hall, you are speaking too loudly. If I can hear you from the next room, you are still speaking too loudly. If someone can hear you from down the hall and I am sharing an office with you, you won’t be speaking at all very soon.
Forming cliques. I know some people say this is inevitable, and maybe it even is, which is a sad statement about the nature of humanity. I like to believe that those people just aren’t considering all the facts. For my money a clique is a group of people who shut out others and begin to make important decisions (either socially or politically within the organization) amongst themselves. If there’s no chance for anyone else to get into this group, that makes it a clique. If others can join over time, it’s just folks who have known each other a long time. It’s a fine distinction, but where cliques are poisonous, forming long-term associations gives longevity to an organization.
Careless office romances. Note that I said careless office romances. Truth is any careless romance is bad, it’s just that when you work in the same office you have to run into each other every day, which makes it that much worse if things go south. Not to mention the car pool gets awkward. You can still have romance at the office, just be smart about it.
Don’t whine. Trust me when I say nobody’s job is anywhere near as much fun as you think it is. Even the guy whose job it is to play with puppies all day is probably allergic by now. If you think someone else is getting to do everything you want to do, maybe they are. They also have to do all kinds of things you either don’t want to do or have no idea how to do, mostly owing to the fact that you’re too busy whining about how you don’t get to do the “fun stuff” to bother learning it. There’s also a zero percent chance anyone will want to work with you when their perception of you is the guy who won’t do the things that need doing, but instead will always have his eye on the things he wants to do.
So what is proper office behavior? Put short, do what I did: find someone you want to be and try to be like them. Don’t ignore their flaws, just don’t emulate them. If you ever find yourself growing out of that role, find a new role model. And no matter what, don’t wear flip flops to work.
Today I want to reach out to the lonely guys. The ones who sit by themselves, pining away for the perfect girl who just hasn’t noticed how perfectly perfect he is for her, and one day they will live a perfectly perfect life together that will be just perfect. You know who you are. Chances are you think you’re this girl’s best friend; hell, she’s even told you so on more than one occasion. It just kills you a little more inside each time she does, but that’s okay, because someday she’ll see the real you, and dump that asshole boyfriend she keeps going back to. Yeah, it’s gonna happen. Any day now.
I’m here to tell you some truths you need to hear, some things you may not have heard before or maybe you have, but I say them in a way you haven’t heard them before: I say them with love in my heart, because I was you, once upon a time. Yes, my friends, I was that guy. If you don’t believe me I can provide more than a few character witnesses, but suffice to say I had my angsty teenage moments that stretched into years, and I finally found the cure.
Here’s what I want you to do: put down the half-caff latte. Step away from the copy of “Say Anything”. Drop the composition notebook full of shitty love poetry that you refuse to show to anyone anyway because “they just don’t understand you”. Understand this: you are not John Cusack, and life is not a romantic comedy. Two hours from now you will still be lonely, she will still be with him, and nothing will be different.
Now here are some of the unhelpful things you may be used to hearing, along with the typical responses (which happen internally more often than not):
Them: “You just need to be yourself.”
You: “Who else am I?”
Them: “You just need some confidence.”
You: “How am I supposed to do that?”
Them: “You’ll find the right girl… eventually.”
I’m going to address these one at a time, as they are generally a mix of (as you have guessed by now) hopeful optimism and outright deception. Let’s start from the top. First off, who you need to be depends on what you want. If you keep getting rejected time and again by women, maybe “being yourself” shouldn’t be the top of your priority list. Instead, consider being somebody else. For instance, consider being someone who doesn’t come across as creepy. Also, being someone who has a job, doesn’t live with his parents, owns a car, understands basic hygiene, and has some concept of social graces can do wonders for you. Assuming you already have all of these going for you, you can move on to the next item on the list.
Confidence. Ah, that old canard. Maybe the problem isn’t confidence but communication skills. Here’s a phrase to practice while looking in the mirror: “Yes, actually.” Use this phrase the next time the girl who thinks you’re “best friends” asks something like “Are you asking me out?” or “Did you think this was a date?” or “Wait, are you straight?” You’ll be amazed at how quickly it will change the dynamic of your relationship. Most of the time it will end your relationship, but at least you will be confident about where you stand on getting a date with her. Ever. Oh, and while you’re looking in the mirror, how about comparing your wardrobe to that “asshole” she’s dating? Is he wearing the same kind of clothes now that he was wearing in the seventh grade? Are you? If the answer to one of those questions was “yes”, I bet I can guess which one. (Unless he’s a hipster. If she’s dating a hipster she deserves him.)
Finally, you’ll meet the right girl when you stop chasing after the wrong ones. Everybody has heard that women can smell desperation, but nobody has any idea what that means. Well, lucky you, I’m going to give you a little hint. WOMEN ARE NOT STUPID. If a woman sees you panting after every other woman around and asking them all out, getting shot down by each in turn before you deign to ask her out, do you really think she’s going to be grateful you finally got around to her? Conversely, if you hang on her every word, doing everything she asks of you all the time in the hopes she may grace you with just a morsel of her attention, why should she give a damn about you?
So what do all these things have in common? Respect. Respect for yourself, and respect for the woman you want to have in your life. When you respect yourself enough to hold yourself to that higher standard, others will see it and want you for who you are. When you respect others enough to clearly communicate your wants and needs without being needy and without treating them like objects or simply placeholders, you come across as confident. And when you see women as intelligent partners in meaningful relationships, not simple conquests or objects of worship, the right girl will find you.
I live in Northern Virginia, and while it has its charms, including a diverse food culture, vibrant arts scene, and better looking people on average than anywhere else I’ve lived (Indianapolis, I’m shaking my head shamefully in your direction), there is one thing I could quite happily live without: the traffic. I know, it’s passé to complain about traffic in a major metropolitan area, but this isn’t like New York traffic, or LA traffic, or Chicago traffic, or any of those (I’ve driven them all, and yes they all suck, so please don’t write me and tell me how bad you have it.)
The problem with NoVA (as we call it) traffic is that it’s not city traffic, but it’s also not suburban traffic. It’s an awful mix of the two as people push the damn exurbs farther and farther out, and the government, tech sector, and other high-paying jobs draw more and more people from different parts of the country, so nobody drives the same way as anybody else. The result is akin to depriving an entire psych ward of their medication for an entire week: it’s never a good idea and it sometimes results in fatalities. There are a few common maneuvers that are becoming such a strong trend among the driving illiterati that I feel the need to make a special point of them.
I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I Won’t Stop Until I Get There
I’ve noticed this one primarily among drivers in cars with out of state plates. They clearly have no clue where they are or where they are going, but rather than doing something sensible like pull over and look at a map, check the GPS or (dear God!) ask directions, they insist on rolling merrily along. Personally I couldn’t care, except that they’re also clearly afraid that they will miss their exit/turn/house/Burning Man Festival they are looking for if they go more than half the speed limit. The result is that they slow down everyone behind them, create mass frustration, and potentially riskier behavior in other drivers as they try to get around the asshole who can’t just pull over. Well done, sir.
This Is My Lane And I’ll Go Any Speed I Want
Related to the last one is the guy who seems to think it’s his job to enforce the speed limit by getting in the fast lane and going five miles an hour below the speed limit. Yeah, cause that’s not gonna cause an accident. Either this guy really does think he’s doing some sort of good (in which case he’s a self-righteous asshat) or he’s just an oblivious jerk who never learned how to drive (you get in the farthest right lane that you can while maintaining speed.) The flipside of this is the guy who drives incredibly fast until he’s right behind the guy ahead of him and then slams on the brakes. Between the two I actually fear this one more, but let’s be honest, either the cops or Darwin will take care of this guy for me.
I’ll Be Turning Any Day Now
I’m not bagging on the people who leave on their turn signal for six miles here (you know who you are), because that’s an international and quite possibly an interstellar phenomenon. I’m specifically referring to the people who commit one of two offences against common sense. The first is sitting at a turn for an inordinate amount of time without turning. I understand not everyone is as quick off the stick as I am, but when there’s not another car in sight, the light’s been green since you got there, and you still aren’t turning, what the hell is wrong with you? And no, I’m not making this one up, it happens to me on a daily basis. The second is even worse: the phantom turn lane. This is the guy who starts slowing down to make his turn roughly a half mile before he gets to the turn lane. If the turn lane were full of cars I could get behind that, but usually the douchebags who do this can clearly see the turn lane is empty, they’re just coasting to save that extra 1/1,000,000,000,000 gallon of gas and waste an extra five minutes of my day.
There’s some other things people do that torque me off, but I don’t see any point in calling them out for it since I do them too. I suppose it could be worse; at least I don’t ride on the Metro.