Posted in Service Industry

Working with the Cool Kids

English: This is Fred, and he is inside our co...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a cat with nine lives.  I’ve lived a few of them, and can’t wait to see what the rest bring.  One of them lasted for sixteen years, and in it I was a stay-at-home mom.  I am very proud of it, and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.  Except I did.

Let me acknowledge that every stay-at-home parent has a different story just like every cashier, or doctor, or educator has a different  story.  My experience was that before I was a SAHM, I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to establish myself in the world.  I was young, had only worked with my mother in a retail store she owned, and had only been married for two years.  I was twenty-four when I became pregnant with my first of four children, which were born (give or take a few months) every two years.

My husband was a police officer.  He was my window to the world.  His world was dangerous, cynical, and narrow.  I was very thankful to have him to protect me from the big, scary world he told me about.  We were lucky that he made a nice living, but to run a household for six of us on the one income, I needed to be resourceful.  I cooked from scratch, sewed, planned and budgetted.  One day that just wasn’t enough to make ends meet.


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When I decided to dabble in the workplace about twelve years ago, I took a 3-month seasonal position as a cashier.  After that there was a weekend catering gig, an educational assistant, and a magazine vendor changer-outer — not my official title, but that’s a descriptive as I can get.  Then one day I saw a sign for the Barnes and Noble being built into the mall.  I just about jumped right out the window of the car.

Barnes and Noble was the place I went when I managed to eke out a night away from the kids.  It’s the one place I could justify buying new things.  I huffed new-book smell straight from the bag, and hid the receipts until the canceled checks arrived in the mail (remember that?).

I worked for that store even before the books arrived.  We dusted and cleaned and then stacked boxes upon boxes in heaps seven feet tall!  It was magical and exciting.  Then one day they told there were placing me in the café.  I know it was due to my catering experience, but I didn’t even drink coffee.


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Within a year I rose from the lead to the café manager.  I loved my job, but even more than that, I loved the people — both the customers and the staff.  They came from every walk of life.  There were old women with pink crocheted hats.  There were businessmen in suits and ties.  There were young people with piercings and tattoos.  There were gay people and goth people and mean people and pretty people.

And do you know what?  None of them were as scary as I was led to believe.  The world was a friendly place.  And not only did I like the world, I realized the world liked me!  I found I had a knack for making people happy.  Changing each person’s day in a positive way became my goal, for those who visited and those who showed up to work.

Community Action Services and Food Bank in Pro...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days I work for a food bank.  We distribute food to agencies who feed people who are hungry.  For five years I’ve worked in our Agency Services Department, helping agencies get what they need.

The walls are thin, and a department called Food Rescue inhabited the other side of my wall for many years.  They had a lot of fun.  Sometimes they laughed so hard, I had to plug one of my ears to hear my customer on the phone.  They were the cool kids.  The ones with the quick wit and keen sense of humor.  They came and went, often out of the office for days, on covert missions the likes of which we knew not.

One day I decided it was time to learn more about this great place that employed me.  I ventured out on a ride-along with a couple of Food Rescue staff.  I hadn’t planned to fall in love, but I did.  Head over heels, birds singing, heart-pounding love.  Within a year I managed to land the position I wanted.  I will be executing covert, dangerous food-rescuing missions in hard-to-reach places.  I imagine there will be a cape and super powers involved, although there has been no mention of them yet.

The relationship I established with the world brought me to this place — this yearning to make it smile, to brighten a corner wherever it is, a genuine appreciation for humanity.  I’m obviously still in the honeymoon phase, and I’m not sure I’m a cool kid yet, but I have a good feeling about this.

Peace . . .

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Posted in Service Industry

High Standards + Low Expectations = Peace of Mind

Half Full or Half Empty? (LensBaby 8)
(LensBaby 8) (Photo credit: Today is a good day)

I like to think of myself as a realist.  My glass may be half full or half empty.  I’ll let you know after I find out what’s in there.  Wine?  Dang, that glass is half empty.  Fill ‘er up, eh?

As a realist, there are things I understand.  Not everyone is going to like me.  Nothing is perfect — not a job, not a friendship, not a house, not a spouse.  Nothing lasts forever — not possessions, not happiness, not life, and certainly not cake.

For these reasons and more, realists sometimes are mistaken for pessimists.  But as a realist, I also understand that everywhere I go, most people are going to like me.  And my job, friendships, house, and Bubba are really awesome.  In addition, most things will last just long enough to get what you need out of them, including grief, strife, childhood, and life.  Even cake.

Another misconception is that people with low expectations harbor low standards.  While I know what superb results look like, I know there are times I just won’t achieve them.  To avoid stress, it is in my best interest to be realistic.

Perfection is where high standards meet high expectations and can lead to procrastination and eventually paralysis.  The dreaded 3 P’s.  Look it up.

Take my last month at work and, for all I know, the next month or more.  We had a software conversion.  They tell me I am a super-user, which means all questions and issues from my department funnel through me.  I work in a customer service position.  Our software conversion is causing issues not only for internal users, but the people we serve.  There are inaccuracies, misunderstandings, and unmet expectations.  There’s that word again.

Taroby screen-inbox
Taroby screen-inbox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My email and voicemail inboxes are brimming with unanswered messages.  I am not meeting my high standards of customer service.  I am afraid I won’t help my co-workers feel comfortable in the new system.  I have lost management of my time.  My long hours are shrinking my personal time; my real life.

And on one particular day I crashed.  I threw a hissy fit right a my desk.  Papers were thrown.  Tears were spilt.  Someone in the neighboring office may have freaked out.  Just a little.

The biggest problem was the level at which I had placed my expectations.  I expected June to feel normal.  I expected a manageable routine by now.  I expected sleep to come 7 hours at a time.  After five weeks in the new system, I expected to meet my high standards.   When they weren’t, I imploded.  Or exploded as the case may have been.

It is time for a game plan.  And while I don’t completely have that plan figured out, chances are it is going to include lowering my expectations.

The difference between expectations and standards is that you can lower your expectations without sacrificing your self-esteem. I don’t think we can say the same of our standards.  While our circumstances are often out of our control, both of these attributes are not; we can set them deliberately.

I have set my standards sky-high.  Due to circumstances out of my control, I just can’t meet them . . .

 . . . yet.

Posted in Lore

An Evening at the Ballet

My favorite pastime is to watch someone performing a task that they know well.  I’m sitting here at McDonald’s . . yes, McDonald’s! . . . watching the ballet behind the counter.

The shift manager, switching gracefully between Spanish and English, has complete control. She choreographs the stage with the confidence of the greatest mistress. Her ballet company each aware of the other’s move as they have practiced every day. They make it look easy, as if one who had never seen the dance before, could slip in seamlessly.

There is one at the front, awkward and stiff, smiling nervously. If that weren’t obvious enough, he is overseen by a small girl watching his hands, his register, checking the receipts and listening to his customers. Quiet boredom resides behind her eyes. She is eager for this student to dance on his own.

I love to watch my local barista, the piano tuner, the window dresser, the phlebotomist, the forklift operator.  I’m a regular balletomane.  At some point, we were all beginners at what we do.  Even the experts had to learn all the moves; the arabesque, the glissade, the pirouette.  I like to watch and wonder what took the most practice to learn?  What adds the most drudgery to the day?  Why is it done that way, and what in the world is that thing?

Sometimes you are going to find performers who just should not have made the cut.  As with any stage, “the show must go on!”  Other ballerinas react quickly, the mistakes are covered, the ballet continues.

And at the end of the day, even those of us who dance at our desk are ready to go home.  We release our weary feet from our shoes.  We massage our aching muscles.  We offer our final reverence before preparing to do it all again tomorrow for a new audience.