Reinventing myself one day at a time
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My Day 9-11-2012

Sep 11 2012
downtown

The view from our build­ing

Much like the peo­ple from the World Trade Cen­ter tow­ers, I work in an office. In a cubi­cle, to be pre­cise. In a 20 story build­ing over­look­ing a river on one side and a major down­town met­ro­pol­i­tan area on the other. It’s not the tallest build­ing I’ve worked in. In 2001, in fact, I was just a few blocks away from my cur­rent office in a 33 story build­ing I can see from our win­dows. That build­ing, eerily enough for those work­ing in it at the time, is also part of a “twin tower” set of build­ings. But I digress from the point of my story.

My day starts out just like most peo­ple. Get up with the alarm before sun­rise, shower, get dressed and ready for work. Feed ani­mals, grab a cup of cof­fee on the way out the door. On trash days, I run the trash bags or recy­cle bins quickly to the curb just before the truck arrives on our street. When the days are shorter in win­ter, I’m leav­ing for work while it’s still dark out — in sum­mer, just as the sun is ris­ing. Like most Tex­ans, my com­mute con­sists of dri­ving alone in my car through con­gested, construction-laden streets and high­ways. (I’ve been told this is the least energy effi­cient way of get­ting to work, but for many of us, there are no other options. Even co-workers live too far apart and have too dif­fer­ent sched­ules to make car­pool­ing an option. This is the way it is.) In the late sum­mer days of August and Sep­tem­ber, I’m faced with the full moon through the wind­shield as the sun comes up behind me. My com­mute takes me through no less than 4 sub­urbs of the city that is my des­ti­na­tion. Each of the small towns’ cit­i­zens have their own style of dri­ving. The first drive as close to your bumper as they can, urg­ing you for­ward in their mad rush to their own jobs. These are younger, career-minded peo­ple in newer and more expen­sive cars. They moved into homes fur­ther away from the city, in new and grow­ing sub­di­vi­sions with two-story houses and tiny yards. They are always in a hurry. Next come the work trucks, logos on the side, with 2 or 4 men inside — all but the dri­ver still sleep­ing. Last, in the town clos­est to the city and one of the old­est in the area, dri­vers are slower, more laid back and in older model cars and trucks. The dri­vers are older too and often drive slower than the speed limit. On their way to jobs they’ve held for 30 years, they’re in no rush to begin the cycle again. All the while, con­struc­tion zones threaten to slow traf­fic to a crawl as we wind our way together to our var­i­ous des­ti­na­tions.

Finally, after 30 min­utes or an hour (or more), I arrive at my cur­rent place of employ­ment. It’s like many oth­ers I’ve worked, and not much dif­fer­ent than any given office in any given city. We’re lucky that we do have a badge-access cov­ered park­ing garage. In past years, I’ve had to walk blocks to a paid lot, parked in rain, hail, or snow, hav­ing to clear my wind­shield before start­ing the jour­ney back home. I appre­ci­ate the cov­ered garage. I grab my lunch and my badge, which is my access to the build­ing as well. Greet the secu­rity per­son sta­tioned by the door. In spite of see­ing the same peo­ple each day, they also need to see your badge as you come in. Some­thing inter­est­ing I learned years ago — build­ing secu­rity per­son­nel are always the first to know who is about to be fired. Inside the ele­va­tor, I must use my badge again to get to the 10th floor. I head to the break­room first. If there’s fresh cof­fee already made, my boss has arrived ahead of me. If not, I start the cof­fee in the indus­trial cof­fee machine using pack­ets pur­chased in bulk. Mud, we call it, and every­one has their own fla­vored creamer lin­ing the door of the refrig­er­a­tor. I take my lunch with me to my desk rather than add it to the already packed shelves of week-old left­overs and lunch­bags. Our office build­ing also has a nice cafe­te­ria on the bot­tom floor, but for those of us on a bud­get, it’s eas­ier to bring lunch than pay the $6 — $12 for a burger or din­ner plate. I’m not a per­ma­nent employee, but instead a full-time, on-call temp (mean­ing I get a steady pay­check, but with­out ben­e­fits and on any given day I can be sent home when the work slows down. it’s a posi­tion that is becom­ing more com­mon with many cor­po­ra­tions.)

My day is typ­i­cal of any office posi­tion I’ve held in the past. Check email, fol­low up on ques­tions, con­cerns or prob­lems of man­agers, co-workers and so on. It’s pleas­ant in that our office is not a call-center. There is still the office pol­i­tics to deal with. Hier­ar­chies, and (often unnec­es­sary) pro­to­cols. This job must first be approved by that per­son — who has already seen and approved it three times before. That job requires the input of two other teams before it can even begin. Man­agers, super­vi­sors, VPs and oth­ers insist on meet­ings to dis­cuss the work­load that, more often than not, slow down the work­load. “Busi­ness casual” attire means dress slacks are ok, open-toed shoes are not, with Casual Fri­days allow­ing jeans and sneak­ers. The “com­pany” expects employ­ees’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in com­mu­nity fundrais­ers, offer­ing incen­tives such as wear­ing jeans all week or half-days off (unpaid for temps like myself). In spite of the “cor­po­rate atmos­phere”, it’s a pleas­ant com­pany with much less polit­i­cal tugs-of-war than I’ve expe­ri­enced in the past. (I will always say “in spite of” when it comes to cor­po­rate atmos­phere. There is no cor­po­rate office any­where that runs smoothly, with­out plays for polit­i­cal power, head-butting, or in the worst sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple under­min­ing the work, posi­tion and even knowl­edge of co-workers. I’ve expe­ri­enced all of it — from the best to the worst. Teams and team goals will always clash with each other, as the very thing that makes a cor­po­ra­tion grow cre­ates sit­u­a­tions where the right hand is not always aware of the impact they have on the left hand, and vice-versa.)

Office life is what it is. You work with peo­ple you would not be friends with in any other aspect of your life, and your co-workers become your friends. Like with a fam­ily, you don’t get to choose who sits in the cubi­cle beside you. Either you get along or you don’t — and if you don’t, you grow weary of your job and every­thing about it. Noth­ing teaches diplo­macy bet­ter than work­ing in close prox­im­ity to sev­eral other cubi­cles. When peo­ple ask me how I can be friendly and open with strangers, the answer is that I have to do it with every new job, with each new office, in an end­less pos­si­bil­ity of poten­tial life-long friends or hos­tile envi­ron­ments sur­rounded by bit­ter employ­ees. Most fall some­where in the mid­dle.

There is noth­ing glam­orous about work­ing in a cubi­cle. It’s the desk-equivalent of assembly-line work. Each day the same as the last, run­ning into each other into an end­less blur. My job con­sists of pro­duc­tion work not taught or dreamed of in col­lege courses. Get it done fast, get it done right, and get it done on sched­ule. You don’t want to see errors come back from the qual­ity con­trol team. You don’t want to see last-minute changes come in from the cre­ative team. My nat­ural curios­ity and geeky ten­den­cies make me check in with the ana­lyt­ics team to see the results of my work. They’re more than happy to share, in spite of the fact that I have no con­trol over the con­tent of my work. I do what I’m given to work on, regard­less of whether it makes sense from a customer’s per­spec­tive. Com­pany poli­cies (and pol­i­tics, again) take prece­dence over cus­tomer expec­ta­tions. Office work­ers aren’t out there sav­ing people’s lives. We’re not cur­ing can­cer. We don’t typ­i­cally *do* any­thing that is life-changing or crit­i­cal for oth­ers. In some cases, our work is seen and noticed by the gen­eral pub­lic, both online and off; in other cases, it’s not. It may be noticed if it isn’t there, but it’s rarely actu­ally *missed*. I’m one of the lucky ones, that I truly enjoy the work that I do. Office work­ers go to work, spend all day in obscu­rity in a cubi­cle, and go home again. They come from all walks of life, all faiths, all races and all back­grounds. They have fam­i­lies and pets. They spend their week­ends with fam­ily, friends, alone… going to movies, play­ing sports, play­ing with their kids or their pets, work­ing on per­sonal projects, watch­ing TV, vol­un­teer­ing, car­ing for elderly par­ents… They blend together en masse dur­ing their com­mute and in build­ings across the coun­try. They harm no one. They are not a threat. These are the peo­ple — the ordi­nary peo­ple — who became a tar­get, hav­ing done noth­ing more than liv­ing their lives and going to their jobs.

Today, 9/11, we will again see TV spe­cials fol­low­ing the first respon­ders, com­mem­o­rat­ing the priest who refused to leave his post as chaos sur­rounded him. We will read arti­cle after arti­cle dis­cussing the impact on pol­i­tics, and jour­nal­ists urg­ing politi­cians to stop turn­ing the tragedy into a polit­i­cal agenda, while mak­ing it an agenda them­selves. First respon­ders, politi­cians, res­cuers all become the cen­tral focus across the coun­try, far removed from the offices them­selves that are no longer stand­ing. I sit in a cubi­cle even as I type this. Life goes on, the daily grind con­tin­ues, the com­mute is the same. Life in a war-torn coun­try, with gen­er­a­tion upon gen­er­a­tion of hate and mis­trust is fur­ther removed than even the build­ings that fell or the planes that crashed. I have no under­stand­ing of one reli­gion fight­ing another. Those are things for movies of the past about sol­diers fight­ing for ancient lands. If there is any mes­sage to my end­less ram­bling today, it isn’t about Peace. It’s about the names. The names of the office work­ers. The peo­ple who were just like me. The real mes­sage of 9/11 isn’t “beware of ter­ror­ism”, in spite of what politi­cians and jour­nal­ists would have us believe. The real mes­sage of 9/11 is Tol­er­ance. Under­stand­ing. And remem­ber­ing the names.

Working Naked Day and a Pet Peeve

Jan 31 2012

cubicleTomor­row, Feb. 1st is the 3rd annual Work­ing Naked Day. Now, if you’re pic­tur­ing me run­ning around in my birth­day suit or skivvies shout­ing “Woohoo! It’s Work­ing Naked Day!” sorry to dis­ap­point. I work next to win­dows so I can look out­side and enjoy the day. The “boss” always gets the cor­ner office with a view, right? 😉

No, “Work­ing Naked”, has an entirely new mean­ing to those of us who work from home offices. You can read this arti­cle: Work­ing Naked Day: 10 Ways to Make You More Pro­duc­tive, to learn more about it and also find 10 new ways to cel­e­brate Work­ing Naked Day by becom­ing more pro­duc­tive. For me, Work­ing Naked is work­ing with­out a net. It’s work­ing with­out the ben­e­fit of a large cor­po­ra­tion, an entire team of peo­ple for those extra tasks, ben­e­fits them­selves, or a guar­an­teed steady pay­check. As some­one who spent the bet­ter part of two decades work­ing in the cor­po­rate world, the dif­fer­ences when you strike out on your own as an entre­pre­neur in a home office are dra­matic — almost trau­matic at times. Get­ting up and head­ing straight to the com­puter in my jam­mies is great. Hav­ing no com­mute and jump­ing straight into my day while I’m still fresh is some­times the best part of the work­day. On the flip side, there’s no one to chat with at the cof­fee pot in the morn­ing — or as a few for­mer co-workers might say about me, no one to at least grunt at while wait­ing for that first cup (my SH and part­ner isn’t the morn­ing cof­fee kind of per­son 😛 ). Then there’s that pile of dishes from last night star­ing me in the face while start­ing the cof­fee. I do have to remind myself to take breaks too, com­pared to some cor­po­rate jobs where you’re star­ing at the clock watch­ing the sec­onds tick until your next break or lunch. Work­ing from home, I grab my lunch and eat at my desk. Many com­pa­nies I worked for didn’t allow you to eat at your desk — you had to take an hour for lunch and walk away from your desk. There are dif­fer­ences that I miss and oth­ers that remind me why I’m work­ing from home in the first place. Inter­est­ingly enough, many of those are the same. When I do take on a free­lance con­tract where I’m back in an office, I get to expe­ri­ence the things I enjoyed about cor­po­rate jobs. The dead­lines are not my own, which makes bal­anc­ing my time among multi-tasking some­what eas­ier. Deci­sion mak­ing in the cor­po­rate world for the job at hand comes fast, leav­ing less to worry about or ana­lyze over. And I will admit the praise of a job well done from some­one else makes me feel good about my con­tri­bu­tion. Counter that with what drove me out of the cor­po­rate arena: the dead­lines are not my own … deci­sion mak­ing over long term job roles or com­pany changes is deathly slow, if it ever hap­pens at all … there’s no time for analy­sis nor desire for it in may cases … and not get­ting praise or recog­ni­tion when you have done a good job — or worse, the praise and recog­ni­tion you earned/deserve going to some­one else all made work­ing in the cor­po­rate world a liv­ing night­mare.

Why do I go back? In spite of a fail­ing econ­omy — Or per­haps because of it. There’s no such thing as job secu­rity any­more. — I am extremely picky about the com­pa­nies for which I am will­ing to work. After inter­view­ing, I turned down one posi­tion not once, but twice; the sec­ond time a year after they had first offered. The job came open again within a year for the very rea­son I refused to take it. It was more work and respon­si­bil­ity than one per­son or one posi­tion could fill. I’ve dis­cov­ered you can often find out which com­pa­nies are worth your time just by look­ing at the job descrip­tion. You say you want some­one who can do both HTML5 and Flash? There’s an inter­vie­wee red flag right there. The com­pa­nies I do work for are com­pa­nies where employ­ees mat­ter. Where no one per­son is allowed to take away from some­one else. And most impor­tantly, where super­vi­sors under­stand time and resource con­straints as eas­ily as they under­stand bud­get con­straints. (Why that one as the most impor­tant? Try work­ing for a com­pany that expects at least 20 thirty-minute or longer phone calls to fit within a 7 1/2 hour work­day plus doing 3 to 5 hours of other tasks and not allow­ing multi-tasking dur­ing those calls. If you’re keep­ing up with the math, that’s a 13 hour work­day at min­i­mum. Impos­si­ble, you say? So did I. For which I received mul­ti­ple rep­ri­mands and a cut in pay. And some­how I think those super­vi­sors are still won­der­ing why their depart­ment was removed entirely from that com­pany.) In other words, I have worked for the worst of the worst com­pa­nies out there. But since then, I’ve dis­cov­ered what I con­sider the best of the best. Those are the com­pa­nies I seek out and that I’m will­ing to give my time to. The pay­checks I receive allow me to con­tinue pur­su­ing my entre­pre­neur­ial dreams. They pay the bills and keep me out of debt. I haven’t owned a credit card in over 2 years. Over­all, my health and hap­pi­ness have improved tremen­dously. And in return, I’m able to give the com­pa­nies I work for a qual­ity prod­uct at pro­duc­tion speed.

None of that, how­ever is my pet peeve. That comes between those free­lance gigs where I get up and go to an office every day. The days when I’m work­ing from home, build­ing and grow­ing my own busi­ness. It’s very elo­quently stated by Bri­ana in her video blog about work­ing from home. “Why don’t you get a ‘real job’?” And for me, that state­ment comes from the one per­son it shouldn’t. Mom. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of times she’s stung me with, “My youngest daugh­ter can do that. She doesn’t have a ‘real job’,” while vol­un­teer­ing me to take on some­thing I never per­son­ally agreed to. I have two sis­ters who live closer to her than I do. One makes her own sched­ule (and so could do any of the things I’m called upon for) and has 3 days off a week. The other only works 3 days a week (and so could do any of the things I’m called upon for as well). And Dad? Has so many paid vaca­tion and sick days dur­ing a given year that he never man­ages to use them all. No. It has to be me. Because I don’t have a real job. Yeah, that stings. The one thing Mom will never under­stand is part of my reply to Briana’s blog post: When I’m not in my office or stu­dio, I’m not earn­ing money.

Yes, I work from home. Yes, it is hard work. No, I don’t earn enough (yet) to pay my share of the bills or even have any of the lux­u­ries many peo­ple take for granted. 30% of my income goes to the gov­ern­ment. I have no insur­ance and there’s never going to be a paid vaca­tion. None of that hurts me or my busi­ness more than “you don’t have a real job.” So, I’ll be work­ing harder at #10 on the Work­ing Naked pro­duc­tiv­ity list. Let every­one know you mean busi­ness. Will it be easy? As any­one knows, any­thing deal­ing with a mother is never easy. But that is why I’m an entre­pre­neur after all, isn’t it? If I backed away from some­thing because it isn’t easy, I’d have closed my busi­ness years ago. In the mean­time, I’ll be spend­ing Work­ing Naked Day dri­ving Mom to the den­tist for the 2nd time this week. How­ever, when I get back home — to my office — I just might strip and shout, “Woohoo! It’s Work­ing Naked Day!” before get­ting into my jam­mies and get­ting down to work. 😉

so long 2011… hello 2012!

Jan 01 2012

Happy 2012! May your year be filled with luck, and your life full of spice!

Thanks to my friend KayeCee for this great meme idea! Reflect­ing on 2011 and look­ing ahead to 2012. Head over to LifeOverHere.com to join in! KayeCee has one of the best out­looks on life, and I love what she said — Res­o­lu­tions, not regrets.

So… here goes… 2011, it was nice know­ing you!

1. Did you keep your New Years’ res­o­lu­tions from 2011? Will you make any for 2012?

I don’t think I kept all of them. The impor­tant one, I did, yes. 2011 was my Year of Pos­si­bil­ity. That was my main res­o­lu­tion. I made (or helped to make) many things hap­pen in 2011 that I’m very proud of! Sev­eral friends now have Face­book Wel­come tabs, I held more suc­cess­ful shows than I had in past years, I attended more Net­work­ing events, and I met my best friend for the first time when she trav­eled to the United States from the Czech Repub­lic for the very first time! 2011 was the Year the Impos­si­ble became Pos­si­ble.

Yes, I will make res­o­lu­tions for 2012. With a few short excep­tions, I’m keep­ing the res­o­lu­tion as open-ended as I did in 2011. 2012 will be my Year of Growth. Emo­tional. Finan­cial. Spir­i­tual. Busi­ness. Health. I do want to write more (includ­ing this blog), work smarter, play harder and pro­cras­ti­nate and sleep less. Do more of what worked in 2011 and less of what didn’t.

2. How will you be spend­ing New Year’s Eve?

It was last night, but we spent New Year’s Eve at home. I cooked a per­fect pot of black-eyed peas with jalapenos to bring luck for the com­ing year.

3. What was your biggest achieve­ment of the past year?

Join­ing a women’s net­work­ing group and attend­ing nearly all of their meet­ings. I have to give credit to C3 for Women for not only help­ing me find clients, but help­ing me find per­spec­tive as well. The cats’ adop­tion became final in 2011 (we were fos­ter­ing them since 2010). Spend­ing August with my best and dear­est friend.

4. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?

Not really mine as much as my best friend’s. She’s the one who trav­eled thou­sands of miles to an unknown coun­try that speaks a dif­fer­ent lan­guage. What I did that I’ve never done was be host­ess to some­one from another coun­try. :)

5. What was your biggest fail­ure?

Tak­ing on clients “because I needed the money.” One turned on me unex­pect­edly while another became a thorn in my side. (If you’re one of my clients, don’t worry, it’s not you. They know who they are.)

6. Do you have any big events planned for 2012?

I hope to hold a home/studio show in the spring or early sum­mer. That does involve mak­ing a res­o­lu­tion of de-cluttering the house though. lol.

7. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

A clutter-free house. (See above answer. :) )

8. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Shar­ing with the peo­ple I love.

9. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Fight­ing with the peo­ple I love. Sleep­ing. Pro­cras­ti­nat­ing.

10. Do you hate any­one now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

There are more “actions” I’ve seen that I hate. I choose to hate the action, not the per­son.

11. Did you suf­fer ill­ness or injury?

I started the year with a com­pletely frozen shoul­der. After months of ther­apy that only made it worse, an ortho­pe­dic sur­geon who refused to help, I finally found a chi­ro­prac­tor who not only gave me the treat­ment I needed, but also exer­cises to do on my own, so with her help and the help of my SH, I can say I’m start­ing 2012 with a fully func­tional arm and shoul­der! ***waves her right arm like mad***
Hello, inter­webs!

12. Did any­one close to you give birth?

No.

13. Did any­one close to you die?

Thank­fully, no. Sev­eral of my favorite celebri­ties and artists did, as hap­pens every year. :(

14. Did any­one close to you get engaged/married?

No.

15. Where did most of your money go this year?

Bills, bills, and more bills!

16. What was the best thing you bought dur­ing 2011?

Some­thing spe­cial for my SH.

17. What places did you visit this past year?

My own home­town! With my best friend vis­it­ing, I got the oppor­tu­nity to become a tourist in my hometown(s) of Fort Worth and Grapevine! Loved every minute of it.

18. What song will always remind you of 2011?

Rihanna — Only Girl (In The World)

Katy Perry — Last Fri­day Night

19. What was your favourite TV pro­gram?

Super­nat­ural. Sea­son 7 started out much more promis­ing than I expected.

20. What was the best book you read?

I’m going to give a shout-out to another online friend. Dream­ing of You by Bar­bara Mack. 2011 was the year I down­loaded Kin­dle reader for PC, so I’ve got lots of great read­ing to do in 2012!

21. What was your great­est musi­cal dis­cov­ery?

Adele. Thanks to Dean!

22. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

For me (This is from Dobie Gray, one of the great artists we lost in 2011. RIP. Thank you for the music):

Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me

I want you to know I believe in your song

Rhythm and rhyme and har­mony

You help me along

Makin’ me strong…

Lyrics that sum up what’s hap­pened in our coun­try in 2011 (Sun­shine is also my reminder of why I don’t re-enter the cor­po­rate world):

Sun­shine go away today

I don’t feel much like danc­ing

Some man’s gone, he’s tried to run my life

Don’t know what he’s ask­ing

He tells me I’d bet­ter get in line

Can’t hear what he’s say­ing

When I grow up I’m going to make it mine

But these aren’t dues I been pay­ing

How much does it cost, I’ll buy it

The time is all we’ve lost, I’ll try it

But he can’t even run his own life

I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine, Sun­shine

Work­ing starts to make me won­der where

The fruits of what I do are going

He says in love and war all is fair

But he’s got cards he ain’t show­ing

Sun­shine come on back another day

I promise you I’ll be singing

This old world, she’s gonna turn around

Brand new bells’ll be ring­ing

23. How would you describe your per­sonal fash­ion in 2011?

Tie-dye with a twist. Flowy sleeves, jew­eled tops and skull/roses Keds go equally well with dress slacks or jeans.

24. What was your favorite film of 2011?

We didn’t go to the movies, but I had the won­der­ful oppor­tu­nity to expe­ri­ence some old favorites with friends see­ing them for the very first time. Fan­ta­sia. Aris­to­cats. Wiz­ard of Oz. :)

25. What did you do on your birth­day?

Din­ner with par­ents and spent time with my SH. Nicely quiet evening.

26. What kept you sane?

My SH and my best friend. The first lyrics I quoted are for them.

27. Who did you miss?

Every year I miss my grandma, my 2 aunts and my cat, Sassy. That will never change but they’re always in my heart.

28. Com­pared to this time last year, are you:

a) hap­pier or sad­der? b) thin­ner or fat­ter? c) richer or poorer?

a) Def­i­nitely hap­pier. b) almost exactly the same weight c) poorer (Just proves money doesn’t buy hap­pi­ness. 😉 )

29. Were you in love with any­one in 2011?

Yes. :)

30. Tell us a valu­able life les­son you learned in 2011:

Don’t take on more than you can han­dle and don’t let the small moments pass you by. Embrace every one of them.