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Archive for September, 2012

Today is Yom Kippur.  I am not Jewish, but I live in LA and there is a decent-sized Jewish population here. Apparently, so decent, that the LA public schools have started closing on the Jewish holidays.  I noticed this last week during Rosh Hashanah, because we live near a high school and have to drive by it in the morning on the way back from the gym as parents are dropping off their kids. It’s calamity.  Except not last Monday. Or today.

Of course, the result of this for non-Jewish families is that you have to think of something to do with your kids for the day, because you still have to work and the kids now have a day off from school.  Where I work is a very casual, artist-driven environment. It is also very family friendly.  On days like today, people think nothing of bringing their kids to work with them.

On a different day, in one of my saltier moods, this would probably bug me. But, I haven’t been in touch with my family much lately and I really miss my sister’s kids, so I have some unspent “kid” energy right now, plus I haven’t encountered any annoying children today. In fact, one of my colleagues brought his little girl in, and she is beyond sweet and adorable, so it’s more of a treat than anything to have her here.  Also, when I was standing in line for the Grill at lunch, a guy was in front of me with his two little kids.  When it came time for them to order, the Dad asked, “Do you want a hamburger or a turkey burger?” And one of the kids replied, “Cheese!”  Which I think is the best possible answer.  Somehow the Dad knew this meant two hamburgers with American cheese, which is an awesomely impressive example of the type of language shortcuts that can occur between parents and children.  It was an entertaining interlude in what would normally would have been a standard, boring wait in line for a chicken breast.

When I was little, I remember going with my Dad to work on a few occasions, but for the life of me, I can’t remember why.  If it was a school holiday, surely my sister would have been with me too?  I remember he sat in a bullpen of cubes with all the other sales people, and he would find a desk for me to sit at so I could color all day.  But I really only remember doing that once or twice.   Was it as pervasive then as it is today?  Does this happen in a lot of work places today, or really just the more super casual places, like where I work?  If it is something that happens more broadly, then it doesn’t seem like a trend that will slow down at all, as the line between people’s work and personal lives becomes even more blurred. If you have to check email while you’re on vacation, then you should be able to watch your kid while you’re at the office, no?

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I’m not sure if it’s always been this way, but it seems like in the past 10-20 years or so, people let themselves be defined by their jobs.  More than that, they think that if they are important at work, they are important in life.  Hence all these people who run around from work meeting to work meeting, checking their email remotely from anywhere at any time of day like the world will end if they are not responding to messages.

A few of my posts lately (i.e., the two I wrote yesterday) mention work/life balance.  Clearly, it’s something that’s been on my mind (not least of all because I have to work all weekend).  But I remember when I was new to this job, in the first year or two.  We had a big movie coming out and about twelve partners. I was overseeing the production of at least six TV spots. It was nuts and I was averaging 10-12 hours a day.  Our department was a lot smaller back then (when I started there were four of us – now there are fifteen of us), so I just had a lot more on my plate.  Part of it was the need because there was legitimately a lot of work to be done, but looking back, I think I let my job define me because I was unhappy outside of my job.  My marriage had its problems and we were constantly worried about money, so I think focusing on work was an outlet and distraction from what was happening at home.  Then I ended up in the hospital with an ITP flare up and was on disability for a month.  And a funny thing happened – the world didn’t fall apart. My job happened without me. It was sort of disconcerting, but also a relief and much-needed dose of perspective.  It is completely insane to let your health fall apart because you’re working so much.  Ridiculous, really.

As you may be able to tell from the frequency with which I have been posting lately, I am not busy at work.  Even though I hate meetings and brand them as ridiculous time wasters, the days when I don’t have any are the worst.  The time goes by so slowly it practically feels like it’s moving backwards.  Just now, I looked at the clock and thought, “2:40?! Good God!”  It will be a long afternoon.

Because I am bored and with little to do, I am perhaps more sensitive to the people running around like chickens sans heads and how obnoxious they are.  How can anyone in this department be that busy?  I don’t buy it.  Earlier today, I was in the kitchen making myself some tea and I bumped into a girl from my department who has worked here for 6 months or so.  She’s very nice, but a little bit too corporate cheerleadery to be someone who I would actually consider having more than a shallow conversation with.  We exchanged pleasantries, and I asked how she was. Her reply was: “Very very very very very busy. I added an extra ‘very’ in there because it’s so busy.”  Who says stuff like that?  And again, I know what we have going on as a department for the next few years – she really shouldn’t be that busy.  When she was hired, I actually questioned the need for her position (rich, I know, coming from someone who blogs and reads stupid stories on the internet all day).  But it seemed like she was proud to say it, like she was almost bragging.

I guess that’s the difference. Many people are very busy these days.  Lots of companies have downsized, so you often have one person doing the work of two or three. Many families have both parents working, and if there are kids, their school commitments, extra-curricular activities and social lives only add to an already daunting list of things-to-do.  But when you ask many people how they are, and they say, “I’m so busy!”, it is often said with an air of regret, or even complaint. Which I don’t mind. They should be complaining. Who wants to be that busy all the time? When would you get to read stupid stuff on the internet or watch TV?  It’s the braggers who annoy me.  But then, maybe I should feel a little bad for them. When your job defines who you are in that way, and when your level of work busy-ness is tied into your self-worth, that means there can’t be a lot of fun stuff happening outside of work. If there was, then that is where you would focus your time and energy.

I am grateful for my job and appreciative to have it – especially in this economy. I’m not trying to be a brat. Working is great. But living is better.

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A few years ago, I started working on a pretty stressful and high-profile account. The partner was a big electronics company and many people across the company were invested in keeping them very happy.  It was my job to work with them on their marketing campaign that involved our movies.  With so many eyeballs on this partnership, it was no easy task.

I forget the details of why, but the TV spot we were supposed to be doing with them was turning into a bit of a mess. We had many meetings about it, and at a point I would take meetings by myself and the Production team, without my boss and immediate supervisor.  We’d gotten to a point over several weeks where we were coming to some sort of agreement and actually had an action plan to move forward.  One day Sharon*, my boss, called me into her office, with Lorna, my immediate supervisor, there as well.  Sharon had just hung up the phone with the VP at the client’s company and was really stressed about the TV spot.  I tried to explain how we’d had a good call and everything was moving forward.  Sharon wasn’t listening to me and told me, “You need to send them an email and tell them that because of XYZ we can’t be responsible if this spot doesn’t come out well.”  I protested – what she wanted me to say was contrary to everything I had just spoken with the partner and their advertising agency about. But that was the end of the story. I was sent away.

I went back to my office, conflicted. Lorna literally stood behind me and told me what to say in the email, throughout my protesting.  She knew fighting with Sharon was futile and she just wanted to get this over with and be done with it. So I sent out an email that I didn’t agree with and knew in my heart wasn’t even accurate.

That was a particularly busy time at work. There were a lot of projects happening at once, and that particular one was stressful and time consuming.  I am not usually in the habit of checking in on my work email during non-work times (I am a huge believer in work-life balance, which most people laugh off as a myth, but I think it is crucial to physical and mental well-being), but for some reason, I checked my email on my Blackberry that Saturday as I was standing in line at Starbucks. There was an email from the President of Operations to the effect that we had a huge problem with the client and we needed to have a meeting about it first thing Monday morning. It was about the same topic as my email. I felt immediately panicked and stressed and couldn’t get it out of my head the rest of the weekend.

The next day, I went with a friend to get a Tarot reading from a psychic we had heard was amazing.  She read cards but was basically just crazy in-tune with what was going on with someone’s aura (sounds nutty, but it was true).  My friend went first, and she picked up on all sorts of stuff about him that I don’t feel like she should have known about someone just because they sat in front of her.  Then it was my turn.  As soon as I sat down, she jumped back a bit and said, “Woah! What is going on at work?”  And I told her the highlights of my story, already impressed that she picked up on it.  Looking at my cards, she said, “There’s someone here I don’t like. This person is sneaky and can’t be trusted. I think it’s your boss? It’s a man?  An Aries?”  I thought maybe she was just wrong, since my boss is a woman, although I agreed she most likely couldn’t be trusted.

The next morning at work, I had an invitation to the meeting about the partner with everyone who was related to the project. This included Sharon and Lorna, me, the President of Operations, and about four other people who were the “Head” of their departments.  Most of us sat in the room while we waited for Sharon, the President, and the Head of Home Video to come into the room. When they finally arrived and sat around the table, the President said that they had just talked to the partner, and that she was upset about a few things, but they had calmed her down and everything was ok.  Then, Sharon looked at me in front of everyone in the room and said, accusingly, “That email you sent her on Friday made everyone really nervous.”  I was a bit speechless, but with all eyes on me, the only thing I could think to say was, “What do you need me to do?” in the most neutral tone I could manage.  I knew being defensive and protesting would only make me look silly in front of all these people who are at least 8 levels above me on the totem pole of importance.  Inside, I think I was in some sort of shock from the unfairness of it all. After the meeting ended, Lorna and I walked back to our office – Sharon had stayed behind. Lorna was actually more visibly upset than I was about the entire thing – I think she even said something like, “She made you send that email!”  I told her it was ok because there really wasn’t anything we could do about it – which was true, we couldn’t.  It was done. Luckily it didn’t damage my reputation at all. In a funny way, I think it helped me. Sharon doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect from the other senior managers around here.  I think something about the exchange (and certainly, the look on my face) in that conference room that morning let everyone know there was more to the story than just what she insinuated with her comment. Also, I think they had all seen my work long enough to know that I was better than that. So I feel like it almost earned me more respect because I didn’t react and my instinct was to offer help to fix it.  And what can I do about Sharon?  She is hard headed and, in her own mind, never wrong. It is not a fight I would win. So I let it go.  However, I will never look at her in the same way again, not even a little bit. That move smacks of a very, very poor character, and there’s not much to respect in that.

Later that day, I remembered that Sharon is an Aries.

* Names (of course!) have been changed. Despite this story, I don’t want to get fired.  I still need my job.

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Previously, I had complained about my Mother asking “bad questions,” or questions so irrelevant that I have to wonder if she pays any attention to anything I say to her. Ever.

Yesterday I realized she does this other thing which is equally annoying. When giving advice, she often says the wrong thing. How is it wrong? It just is. You know it when you’re talking to someone and they’re all like, “You should do XYZ!” and you think to yourself, “Why the f* would I do that?” But you smile politely and say something noncommittal, like “Yeah, maybe.”

Except I am not as civilized when it comes from my mother. I’ve been dealing with her nonsense for (almost) 37 years now, and my patience is gone.

At the beginning of this week, I found out that I have to attend a TV commercial shoot for one of my clients over the weekend. It essentially ruins my weekend, when I had various plans and was also looking forward to watching football on Sunday.  I am beyond pissed off about it. I’ll take a comp day (I’m salaried, so working on a Sunday is not the windfall of cash that one might expect), but the principle of it still bugs me. I despise our current corporate culture where the notion of “work/life balance” is scoffed at and seen as weakness. Since when did having a job mean that your personal life is unimportant and comes second to the demands of what you do?  But, saying something like, “Sorry, I can’t work this weekend, I have plans.” is just not an option unless I want to get fired, so I just do it.

In an email exchange with my Mom this week about the family trip to Orlando (it got postponed from Christmas (thank God) to next March), I mentioned that I won’t be around to talk this weekend because I’ll be working, and that I’m not happy about it.  Her response?  “Don’t be aggravated!”

Perhaps the single most aggravating thing in the world is being told not to be aggravated when something is 100% justifiably aggravating.   So, if she was trying to diffuse my annoyance, all she really did was intensify it.

I deleted her email immediately.

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Hi, it’s nice to meet you. I’m a huge nerd who enjoyed the grammar part of English classes in high school, and spent more of my childhood with my nose stuck in a book than outside playing with normal kids.  As such, I have a lot of pet peeves about how people write and speak.  Since I acknowledge my own nerdiness and am self aware enough to know that not many people care about these stupid things as much as I do, I generally keep my mouth shut. Also, I don’t want to be seen as pretentious and academically snotty by correcting people, which is part of my reason for holding it in.  Except now, it’s all coming out.  Here is my latest list, in no particular order:

* Acrosst/Acrossed instead of “Across”:  What the hell is this?  Strangely, it is just something I have become aware of from people who I’ve worked with for over six years.  I’m going to chalk it up to a regional thing, since most people I know who do it are from the Midwest or middle of the country.

* I’m not sure how to type it out, but I’ve also noticed people from this same section of the country say the word “saw” (as in the past tense of “see”) as though there is an “L” either in the middle or at the end.

* My boss is famous for using the wrong words when she speaks.  Often this is in business meetings, and it’s as embarrassing to have this happen in front of clients with your boss as it is to have your parents say something stupid in front of your friends.  There are two standouts. The first is when she says something is a “mute point” instead of “moot point.”  I’ve known the difference ever since I heard Rick Springfield’s song “Jessie’s Girl” in the 80s and looked up the word “moot.”  The other makes me cringe and I might actually have to start correcting her because it is just too mortifying.  Whenever any of the girls wear wedge-like sandals, in an effort to be fashionably hip and with it, she’ll say something like, “Cute wedgies!!”  I might need to break it to her that a “wedgie” is what happens when your underwear is lodged up your ass, not a type of shoe.

* Of course I have the they’re/there/their and you’re/your pet peeves that many people do. I’d like to add its/it’s to this equation.

* Superfluous abbreviations.  An abbreviation is used to denote possession or a contraction. Not plural.  I once had an email from a colleague that had about four abbreviations that were entirely unnecessary.  It took all the self-restraint I had not to correct it with red font and send it back to her.

* I’ve griped about this before, but I’m bringing it up again. “AS”  It is sooooo overused as a contraction instead of “since” or “because”.  I feel like the Brits can do this because it’s actually how they talk. When people stateside do it, it bugs me because it makes it feel like they’re trying to sound smart or snooty. If you wouldn’t speak that way, don’t write that way.

Sometimes venting in “Pet Peeve” post makes me feel better, but this one hasn’t yet. I think there are some that I am forgetting at the moment, so I may keep adding to this one.

Author’s Note: I thought of something else to add here. It drives me bonkers when people use the word “genius” as an adjective. It has become 100% socially acceptable to do so, but using Mike’s “forte” example, I just can’t get on board with it (although I don’t correct people like he does).  I much prefer “brilliant,” like the Brits.  I think some people have the same issue with the word “fail” being used as a noun, which is also very popular right now. I get their point, but that one doesn’t bug me as much for some reason. I guess everyone has their thing.

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