bookstores, coworkers, librarians, talking

(That) Kind of A Manager

My current position is not perfect. However, in the interest of complaining less (which is good for you!) and focusing on positivity instead of negativity, I thought I would address my favorite part of my job, as well as celebrating some quality people who have shaped who I am in the workplace.

I supervise student employees. They are mine to boss around — er, I mean, assign/delegate tasks — though I do not schedule them or serve as their go-to contact. I am there to answer their questions, back them up with patron-related problems, and I ask them for help with tasks. They (mostly) oblige good-naturedly. Building relationships with young people has always been one of my favorites, and it influenced my choice to major in Education, to pursue student teaching a second time despite a disastrous first try, to nanny, and to work as a teacher-librarian. Of course, my college students are very different than the toddlers I used to babysit (namely in their affinity for curse words and their showing up with visible “love bites”), but deep down I just like being around people and often younger people are more open to talking and connecting with someone they don’t know well.

I loved training the newbies: showing them the ropes and fielding their questions when new situations pop up. One student at the beginning of the year was so stunned at how old some of our materials are because they had been published the same year his grandma had been born. It was sweet to see his awe at how the information within had existed as long as his grandma, and to see him think about how the book’s field of study had likely changed.

Even more than the work-related conversations, I love hearing them talk about what’s going on in their real lives: work, school, family. I love urging them, seniors or otherwise, to seek out resources that the University offers that they either don’t know about or have the motivation to utilize (here’s looking at you, Career Services :). I love listening to the Sunday girls speak in Spanglish with each other and get excited that I can understand roughly 75%. I am impressed when other students speak in fluent Hindi because it sounds so complicated, but they, bilingual, have been using it since birth. They are pre-med, nursing, engineering, or bio majors and I know I never had to study that hard in college (high school, maybe).

Whereas some students keep entirely to themselves, glued to their laptops or phones their whole shifts, the students who talk to me are my favorites. They tell me about their roommates wanting the heat up way too high, their conferences in Pittsburgh (the buildings are all brick–too much of the same color!), their public speaking assignments, faraway summer internships they’ve lined up (rent is insanely high in CA! Owning real estate and letting money roll in is such a goal!), their minors–majors stress them out, but their minors are fun passion projects like theatre, which involves set building/design and props in particular, creativity in general. The kids have wild stories — one girl humbly told me her family store was robbed over the summer, that she and her dad were held at gunpoint. She smiled and said “it was scary” but that the police caught the perpetrator shortly afterward, and did not appear shaken in the least.

And last week, during my last hour of work before a pre-announced snow day, I asked the young adults working what they were doing on their day off, and they asked me the same. My plan was to watch Coco, and hearing that, one student LIT UP. She is not one of my warm-and-fuzzy students, but she could not stop smiling about my watching it. This 20-year-old told me about how she loves the soundtrack and listens to it sometimes, and she warned me I would cry. (She was completely right.) The four of us then had a fifteen-minute conversation about “kid” movies, babysitting and its merits, and I shared my lone horror story from the single time I ever accepted a job substitute teaching kindergarten. (ONCE WAS ENOUGH. Props to all the kindergarten teachers.) I left for home that night happy for the day off, but happier to share so much dialogue, such a connection with someone young enough that I could have babysat over a movie I hadn’t even watched yet.

[THEN I watched it, and holy moly, I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously, so beautiful. Stop everything and go request it from the library. I’ll wait here!

…Great, glad you took care of that. You too will soon be able to share in the magic.]

More than anything, though, I was happy that I get to be kind of, sort of a manager, because I get to work with some cool young people. I’m that kind of manager: real with them. I go easy on them when they are cramming for an upcoming exam. I ask them questions about their family trips to visit relatives in Colombia, and I pack and label the outgoing mail alongside them because they don’t like doing it (but I do!). I try to calm their course-related anxiety and encourage them to get enough sleep every chance I get.

The best managers I’ve had have been calm, kind and available. One such person is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, whom I watched many a customer verbally abuse at the bookstore, for any number of reasons (probably related to coupons and their applicability). Through it all, no matter how rude someone was to him, he did not take it personally, nor get nasty in response. Instead, he calmly tried to reach an acceptable solution for the customer. I never saw his hair on fire (metaphorically or literally)–even though he was the manager in charge of the schedule, he maintained one of the most easygoing, goofy attitudes complete with a smile. Working with him was relaxed and productive. When I was dumped by my first love and someone in the store tried to immediately set me up with her brother, I fled to the staff room and cried hysterically to this man until he got me laughing and ready to face the floor (if not the dating scene) again. His wife, son and daughter are lucky humans! He still texts me to check in on my birthday & remains part of my support network when it comes time to apply for new jobs. Though I never observed him outwardly showing discontent, eventually, he wanted a better schedule/higher pay, and probably a job where no one screams at him, so he no longer works in retail. But when he was in it, he was the best at accommodating schedule requests and just overall being a great guy. J, you rock!

While I was awed by J’s (and almost all of my bookstore family’s) ability to remain calm under attack, I had to experience discipline from the master some years later. My supervisor in my grad school position was professional in ways I had never known. This was the first workplace other than nannying where the roster of day-to-day contacts stayed consistent. Blessed with the privilege of a non-public workplace, this woman showed me the power of introverts. Her quiet in meetings did not signal a lack of engagement, nor lack of opinion, but she chose when, how, and to whom to express herself in a deliberate matter that best served the purposes of the team. Considering that I am often physically unable to withhold my opinions, seeing her at work was enlightening and provided me with a model for how to comport myself diplomatically in a work environment. She trusted me with projects, some from the ground up (and to only minor, occasional disappointment) and to select candidates to interview for her future graduate assistants. A private person in many ways different from myself, she and I nevertheless bonded over projects, laughs and a mutual appreciation for handwritten letters. During my time working for her, we both suffered losses: she, her beloved father and I, a significant relationship. Rather than the awkwardness that can pollute the workplace post-sad event, we took care of each other. Our respective vulnerabilities did not derail work, and we gently built each other up, one poke-of-my-head-through-her-door at a time. TT, you taught me that it is not weak to take care of yourself, that an office can be a family, and that balance between work and family is possible without sacrificing dedication to either! You serve as my benchmark for how I should carry myself at work. You rule, lady! I hope this makes it into your smile file 🙂

It is strange to me that the people with whom you spend 8+ hours each day are not your chosen inner circle of friends and family. They are a bunch of randos, and today I’m thankful for my time with these two pleasant people, a lifesaver of a current colleague (seriously, H! Mister Rogers stamps!?! Such a thoughtful gift) and my sweet students.

I’m lucky to have to be around the people I do.

anxiety, books, career

This One’s for My Girls

I had planned to write some furious paragraphs about Drumpf’s derogatory comments about brown countries, but I waited more than 24 hours and watched tons of personal stories (Anderson Cooper’s was particularly moving, as was Don Lemon’s) and reflections and jokes about how rude, racist and smugly rich he is. I’ve worked through my rage. He is an embarrassment to our country, and I am actually grateful that he is taking the GOP down in flames with him/drawing a line in the sand for elected officials to actually choose to be decent to and on behalf of their constituents. I have to believe that decency will win, in 2018 and in the long run.

But this political outrage/irritant is only one of many sources of anxiety. The outside world is nothing compared to the echo chamber of an anxiety-riddled brain. My friends and I constantly discuss the myriad ways that we question ourselves, our decisions and our progress in the adult world.

Last night, I went to dinner with three of my dearest friends, one of whom is moving out of state this week. She’s taking a risk, acknowledging that her part-time position won’t be enough to live on & knowing she will within the next few months need to find another part-time job, possibly a full-time job, as well as an apartment that is affordable and safe and not miserable for commuting in January. This is not the worst idea ever. She and her boyfriend will be living in the same city again. This is not the riskiest idea ever. She taught English in Japan for two years, venturing there without speaking more than a few sentences of Japanese. She is highly qualified, professional, thoughtful, organized, responsible and bilingual. (Yes, I know, show-don’t-tell, but I don’t want to violate her privacy.)

And yet, she is terrified at the weight of this decision.

As are all of my friends. About who they’re dating or the lack thereof, about how often they cry or don’t, about whether to buy a house, whether they bought the wrong one, about their rent, their income, their careers, their kids or lack thereof..

And yet. As with many other instances of my sweeping generalizations, upon further reflection, I know that is not true. I have many girlfriends (and more acquaintances, so maybe this also has something to do with how much more vulnerability you share with your closest friends) who are sure of themselves. They are not calm 100% of the time, but they are stable enough not to fly off the handles upon an unplanned event, a depressing news story. They are not entirely derailed or roadblocked by doubt every time they need to make an adult decision.

This is my goal. Closer to unflappable. Bold. Confident in my purpose. Kind to myself and less critical of others.

Here are some books that have empowered me to me move towards this:

 

 

 

About finances and how they generally work out if you take control of spending: You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

About relationships and what to accept/expect/let go: What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier

About caring less about what other people think: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

About how to clear my head/raise future children: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

About social anxiety and how I am definitely not the only one who suffers from it, and also just a pleasant reminder that comics are great: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

About how to be a person: The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith

  • Everyone should read this book. This is my favorite excerpt, talking about a study that asked people to answer the question “Who are you?” after either staring up from the base of a tree or at a nondescript building.

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The world is huge, and awe-inspiring! (Just ask Neil DeGrasse Tyson.) Perspective is important, as is getting out of my head enough to realize my problems are often not as catastrophic as they appear between my ears. In fact, thinking that they are just might inhibit me from behaving well towards others, and letting fear drive me absolutely blocks me from growing or changing, taking any risks at all.

My friend will be fine. She and this move may even be great. She will carry her support network with her and find a community of coworkers and explore a new city. Like me, she has to quiet the peanut gallery of doubts and welcome opportunity. Read before bed instead of scrolling through articles on her phone. It’s not okay.. yet. But who says it won’t be soon?

anxiety, audiobooks, books, meditation, reading

Audiobooks: A Cure for (my) Road Rage

I’m a Lake Woebegone driver: better than average, and I know it for absolutely certain. Some of you who may have doubts as to how much anger this librarian actually holds in reserve, sitting in my passenger seat as I drive from red light to red light past the strip malls of  Route 1 would give you all the proof you needed that I have given myself an apt name. The fury I dredge up on the road heats itself from only two sources: lack of safety and lack of consideration. Of course, when driving a 2,000 pound vehicle in New Jersey, there are plenty of combinations of them both.

During grad school in particular, my road rage escalated. I was taking a full-time course load, working two on-campus jobs, and driving down Route 1 to a third. Among New Jersey drivers… The anger that I felt (and still feel) when the driver in the car ahead of me goes under the speed limit is the emotional equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, because I am no-passing trapped and likely going to be late. Like, come on man/lady/fellow human, why do you need to make me hate you? I don’t know you! I would like to like you, but I DO know that I need to get where I’m going and I didn’t allot sufficient additional time in my day to do so!

Note: this impatience is doubled during what some states call “extreme weather events,” or what THIS Midwesterner calls “rain” and “snow.” I understand that when it is raining, you do not want to tailgate someone, but it does not mean to drive 10mph slower. Barring a typhoon or broken wiper blades, these conditions occur OFTEN and SHOULD BE familiar to you.

Is this starting to feel like I am a compassionless know-it-all who lacks empathy for my fellow earthlings? Are you saying to yourself, “maybe the person is a new driver! Or maybe they are elderly!” Yes? I actually don’t know that those two exceptions make any difference to my opinion, because I generally think that if you cannot handle driving under safe and considerate conditions, you shouldn’t be on the road.

Well, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that this level judgment and anger, not to mention the muscle clenching, increased blood pressure and faster heart rate that occur simultaneously, just aren’t good for me.

Enter: audiobooks.

I cannot emphasize enough the magical soothing effects of listening to a story or learning about an interesting topic, often read by the person who actually wrote the book. Focusing on the book’s content occupies the portion of my brain responsible for being cranky and annoyed. Listening to books as I drive also makes me feel uber-productive, because I’m making progress in consuming ALL THE BOOKS while doing something repetitive and boring I had to do. #winning #nerdalert

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and mentioned many favorites in My Best Books of 2017 but let me take this moment to shine a little light on another one I read before last year.

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10% Happier by Dan Harris made me think about meditation for the first time without rolling my eyes. I knew a thing or two about pushing my own limits, and about racing thoughts and often uncontrollable anxiety and anger. Listening to Dan’s newscaster voice was great, and his dedication to sticking with meditation impressed me. It impressed me because at no point during my time with his story did I attempt to meditate at all. I just thought, “huh. Meditation makes him 10% happier; that would be cool” and after I downloaded one app (Stop. Breathe. Think.) that had a meditation to help me fall asleep, I carried on my merry (or fuming) path of least resistance.

Enter 2017, a year I have most frequently seen referred to as a “dumpster fire.” Personal stuff and the news made me unhappy, and when I reached my 30th birthday, I knew I had to change something. There are plenty successful, well-adjusted people out there, some in my circle, who are not overcome by the news. They consume the same information as I do, feel just as strongly about it, but do not immediately spray obscenities into their surroundings, nor spike their blood pressure. I needed to be more measured.

I read another book: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

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This time…. I also didn’t do any of the suggested “practice” meditations as I read. But, I did put language to what I wanted: I want to control my emotions so that they don’t rule me.

It took pushing myself to attend a Kundalini yoga/meditation workshop at a local studio before I actually did meditate. And dang, people. It is not as hard as I thought. I don’t have to clear my mind or check in with every part of my body like I had always thought (and read). I just sit there and breathe (okay, okay, it is slightly more complicated than that). But it IS all in my head, all the roadblocks and the solutions. And the few minutes I set aside give me something to be proud of every day: I took the time to check in, to refocus, to decompress and lower my blood pressure. I took steps toward being one of those calm, cool people who don’t fly off the handle at the sound of 45’s voice.

I won’t start preaching, but I do think that we the (stressed) people need to take care of ourselves, and that meditation can help. It’s January and I’m still on the New Year/New Me train, but from here on out, I don’t want to rant, nor do I want to portray myself as a Pollyanna full of sunshine and rainbows. I just want to be 10% happier and re-gain my “edge.” Nerd/active citizen power!

And, if audiobooks and/or meditation and/or reading books about it still sound too hard, there are always tweets from the Dalai Lama.

Breathe easy, y’all. And leave 10 minutes earlier 🙂