PATIENCE


This first week of the new year presents a period of rebirth and reawakening. Not just because the calendar has marked the birth of a new year filled with promise and opportunity but also because it is a time that many of us return to work after a much-needed respite from our daily grind. For many professionals, this time of year is the only time that such a break is possible and it is a great chance to truly break away and recharge your battery.

In my old corporate life, I could not wait for my holiday break and was often even more thrilled with my return to work. Despite the volumes of emails and countless voicemails, despite the inevitable crisis that arose while I was out (but could not be handled until I returned, naturally), there was a calm that came with the familiar chaos. While I love my husband and children, two weeks of non-stop interaction with distractions only to shop, cook, eat and sleep, is frankly a bit more than I can tolerate.

In my new life as an independent consultant, the new year has a very different flavor for me. I definitely feel refreshed and excited about the possibilities but instead of me pouring through my endless emails, I am waiting on clients who have to sort through their chaos before they can turn their attention to me and my emails and voicemails. I need to have patience – something that is in short supply with me.

Yesterday, a friend shared a blog written by a woman in her community because she knew how much I enjoy writing and thought I would appreciate her friend’s work and writing style.  She warned me about the backstory of her friend and suggested that I arm myself with tissues before I dove in to read.  Her friend is an average woman with two children living in the suburbs talking about her daily travails.  Her anecdotes were funny and touching and I found myself engrossed with getting to know her and her family a little bit better.  Then the bomb dropped when, last September, she told the story of the tragic death of her 12 year-old son.  Being a parent (to an 11 year-old son, no less), her story was my worst nightmare.  She lost her son in a freak accident that, upon replaying it in her mind hundreds, if not thousands of times, she believed could have been avoided.  After her son’s death, her blog became a place of solace for her to rant and seek comfort and pay tribute to all the magic her son brought to her life.  One particular post I had to re-read several times and became the catalyst for this one for me.  It was all about patience.  It was so striking for me because it was if she and her son were giving me some guidance that I really did not know I needed at that moment.

As I said, patience is in short supply with me.  I want everything done yesterday.  I hate waiting – not because I am demanding or think I am entitled or privileged – because I want to rush to the next step, the next milestone.  I want to know the answer, I need to know the outcome.  When I was pregnant with both my children, I laughed when I talked to other expectant moms who said they were going to wait until the delivery room to learn the sex of their child.  How could you possibly wait?  It was non-negotiable that I would find out what I was having and, quite, frankly, 20 weeks was far too long to wait for that information!

When I was a kid, I often unwrapped and re-wrapped presents because I could not handle the anticipation and needed to know what I was getting.  That always backfired because it killed the surprise, but I had no patience.  How many times I read the last page of a book when I was a kid because I simply could not wait to find out what was going to happen.  Surely, patience is a virtue.  Patience is worth it.  Patience pays off.  Sadly, I have none.

Yesterday, as I settled in to my back-to-work-after-the-holidays routine of beginning to hunt down clients to try to get higher on their priority lists and get answers to my questions and find out what was coming next for my business, I was thoroughly without patience.  Once again, I wanted life to work on my timetable and anything less was going to truly bum me out.  And then, a little boy who tragically left this world and his mom whose life has an enormous hole that I can’t imagine anything in the universe could ever fill taught me a lesson about the power of patience that I hope will help me grow and learn.

And that is the beauty of the world we live in.  Thank you Jack.

MUSINGS FROM A DAY AT DMV


It probably comes as no surprise that I spend a significant portion of my day analyzing and reflecting on things in my life.  It is simply how my brain works.  Things just don’t slip through without careful examination.  I can barely get myself dressed in the morning without weighing the options on each garment.  Has my client seen me wear this jacket recently?  Will I be able to wear 3-inch heels and not fall and break a hip by the end of my day in the city?  Does this shade of black seem a bit lighter than that shade of black.  Yep, it is intense.

Yesterday, as I sat for hours in a less-than-desirable DMV office in a less-than-desirable part of NJ, I had lots of time for analysis and reflection, particularly the reasons why I had to end up in the less-than-desirable DMV office rather than the a little-bit-less-than-desirable DMV office closer to my home.  It had something to do with letting my license expire, some unpaid parking tickets and a lack of analysis and reflection on important papers that go unnoticed when they arrive in the mail.  But, rather than focus on my own foibles, I used this opportunity to think about how the experience at DMV could be better for both the employees that spend so much of their lives there and the patrons who view a trip to the DMV as a gateway into hell.

I put on my workplace consultant hat and thought about what the employee experience is for the typical DMV worker.  They start their days entering through doors covered in bars and manned by county police officers.  When they have the occasion to look out the windows at the lifeless streets and drab parking lot, they have to also stare out through bars.  It definitely gives the impression that you are imprisoned which, as any DMV patron can attest, is exactly what it feels like when you are being shuffled from one line to the next, to the next with no sense of what indignity you’ll be facing next.  Their offices have not been updated in decades and, in and age where we have more technology than we know what to do with, they have handwritten signs posted all around and have photocopies of photocopies that probably started on a mimeograph machine and you can barely make out the words.  To add to the ambience, rather than some unpleasant muzak playing in the background, there is a cacophony of workers yelling the names of waiting guests (that is how Target refers to their customers so I am going to pretend DMV values theirs in the same way) mixed with the low murmurs of patrons cursing about how long it is taking to get their necessary business handled.  (I wonder if the Muzak people have a service for that background noise).

Some – well, most – would suggest that anyone who is crazy enough to take a job at DMV deserves what they get.  The office staff is generally comprised of under-educated civil servants who make barely more than minimum wage (although they have killer benefits, which is nice) and they tend to be a disengaged and disgruntled 99% of the time.  I recently read a post by a woman who was telling of her son’s trip to DMV for his road test and she referred to the workers as “lazy and stupid who don’t give a frig about serving the public.”  I’m not sure if I completely support that sentiment but I will concede that it is easy to draw that conclusion given the experience most have when they are forced to make any type of visit to the office.  No one ever meets you for a drink at the end of the day to tell you about the amazing experience they had at DMV.  “Today they served champagne and chocolates.  I didn’t want to leave!”  Not quite.  However, I would suggest that perhaps we might be looking at the question of the chicken or the egg.  Does the culture of the DMV exist independent of the employees or do the employees create the culture.  If you read any articles written about how the government treats DMV workers and the significant cutbacks being made to the agencies which creates longer lines and, no doubt, more frustration on both the part of the workers and the public, you might consider that working at the DMV might cause a normally lovely person to turn into a hardened, miserable one.

I was watching one particular woman who seemed perfectly “normal” to me.  She was fairly well-dressed and, unlike some of her colleagues, was not chomping on her gum as if she was trying to use her teeth to crack open a walnut.  When I glanced over at her, hoping that my name was the next out of her mouth, she was rifling through a stack of papers as if she was looking for one in particular.  I couldn’t help but wonder if she was actually in search of some poor individual’s paperwork or if, rather, she was just shuffling the papers to avoid calling anyone’s name and let the clock tick forward a few minutes closer to closing time.  I gave her the benefit of the doubt because I believe the best in people.  Minutes later she was helping a gentleman who clearly was missing one of the points for the 6-point identification process (yep, I got the lingo down…that is how I roll).  You could tell that he was pleading with her to help him out so he would not have to return home to find a piece of mail to prove his address and continue on in his nightmarish journey.  I wondered if she simply did not care or if she was just following the stringent rules set by the powers that be that suggest “we make absolutely no exceptions whatsoever because we simply cannot trust the general public because everyone is really a criminal who is trying to get one over on us.”  Now, given some of the shady folks that were walking around the office today, I am not sure I entirely disagree with that line of thinking.  There were quite a few people that looked like they had some secrets tucked away in their very baggy jeans (perhaps that is what was weighing them down so they could not quite stay up on their waists).  I watched as this man pleaded and observed the body language of the DMV worker as she shook her head at him.  He was searching through his manilla envelope (did everyone else get the memo that you are supposed to bring a letter sized manilla envelope with your paperwork to the DMV?  I seemed to be the only one who simply tucked my stuff into my purse) to find the required paper and, each second that went by without him locating it, his shoulders slumped deeper.  He knew what was before him – go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 – and was dreaded starting over.  I am certain that I observed a glimpse of sympathy in the woman’s eyes as she confirmed his fate.  I felt bad for the man and wished they could make an exception (although was still bitter about the fact that I took the very same path the day before when I arrived without a piece of mail) but recognize that, in a culture, such as this, exceptions are out of the questions.  It would create mass hysteria.  My attention on this exchange was interrupted by the large African American woman sitting several seats down from me who was providing us with the enjoyment of her ongoing commentary of what was going down in Room 3.  At this moment, she offered some commentary on how that poor fool is going to have to take his ass home and come back tomorrow.  This was followed up by a long string of whining about how much she needed to go out and have a cigarette and, if they do not call her name soon, she is going to need to pop someone.  Good times!

My name finally did get called and I had the pleasure of having my picture taken which resulted in a photo that looked like I had seventeen chins (I though I had lost just a few of those already) and taking a vision test through some type of view master viewfinder device from when we were kids.  I did stumble before I was able to leave and, once again, had the opportunity to evaluate the culture of the agency.  Was the woman who was helping me (the fourth individual I had come into contact in my three hours at the office) going to go the extra mile or would she happily send me on my way to resolve the inane confusion related to my married vs maiden name?  Would she go out on a limb for me and actually read my marriage license to see that both names are represented?  “It doesn’t have a raised seal, I don’t know if they are going to accept it.”  That right there? That is the transference of blame to some nameless, faceless individual.  That has got to be part of the training.  Much to my surprise and delight, they did accept it and I was released from the holding cell.  Perhaps there are some renegades who want to feel good about helping others and putting in a good day’s work.  Maybe, just maybe, there are people who work at DMV that want to shift that culture to one that it inclusive and inspiring, moving from what feels like a hostile work environment to a place where people look forward to going to work.  Well, that might be a stretch but I will hold out hope.  You can say one thing for the employees at the DMV, they can certainly bring their true, authentic selves to work, and that’s something.

My journey this go round is not completely done and I get to go back one last time to fix my problems that I neglected, ignored and failed to analyze but, for now, I am done and for that, I am grateful!

 

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX


ImageEver since I left my traditional corporate job back in 2009 I have struggled with trying to develop a routine for myself that would enable me to fulfill my work responsibilities and take advantage of the opportunity to work mostly full-time from my home.  When I began my consulting career and started to see some success, I decided it was time to make the investment of building a private home office that was not a corner of the living room, a desk on the sun porch or my laptop at the dining room table.  We worked with a contractor, designed a space in the basement that included four walls and a door.  I spent a lot of money picking out nice furniture that allowed me to have a large desk, lots of storage and an aesthetic that would make the room feel like a space of my own and offer me an environment for maximum productivity.

I painted the walls purple.  I bought some pictures to hang on the wall.  I installed a TV with Fios.  I bought an iMac to complement my macbook pro.  I built myself a woman-cave.  I was in heaven.  I had faux-hardwood floors and, for the first time in my adult life, I truly had a “room of my own.”  That was about a year ago.

Now I have to force myself to go down there to work.

I was talking to a prospective client yesterday at her Wall Street office and we discussed the pros and cons of working from home full-time. Sure, it has its perks and I have lots of friends who envy my freedom and flexibility.  However, it also has many downsides.  There is nobody swinging by my office to chat in the morning while we sip our morning coffee.  There are no windows to stare out to look at the sights of the city or watch as the lights come on in all the skyscrapers on the dark winter afternoons.  There are no staff birthday parties to ceremoniously step out of my office to reluctantly attend.

I have been struggling to understand why this wonderful space (which, by the way, has some good karma because much good work has occurred in that room and many deals have been brokered in there), has become such a dreaded place for me.  Many experts, much smarter than me, will suggest that I need to set boundaries.  I need to create rituals of going to work and leaving work so as not to begin to feel swallowed up.  Others might suggest that my extroverted personality and the lack of sunlight in my office cause me to feel isolated and lonely and, therefore, trigger less than positive feelings about the space.  And others might suggest that I am simply lazy and don’t want to go to work.  All of those are probably true to some degree but I am all about solutions and learning how to process my feelings and learn from them.

So, one of my goals in the new year is to learn to love my space again and continue to be productive.  And, to make sure to feed my inner extrovert as much as possible.