I pity miserable people

‘Miserable people love to make other people miserable. I don’t hate them, I feel sorry for them.’

Brandi Glanville

A few weeks back I was at work during a train track closure. A track closure normally is due to essential track repairs. Alternative transport is organised to accommodate customers. My job on the night was to provide customer service through to guidance, advice and directions to appropriate transport.

Track closures are an inconvenience. They add time to a customers trip and mean there are sometimes multiple transport changes. All the same, they are performed for a purpose to provide a safe service for customers and are traditionally scheduled well outside of peak transport times to minimise disruption.

Well, I was half way through my shift and waiting for the next connection to arrive at the station. Customers were waiting and I was standing back with a couple of my colleagues on the night. One of my colleagues shared a joke and we had a laugh together. I excused myself from the group and made a round of the customers to see if anyone looked confused or had questions.

I was stopped by a sour-faced middle aged woman. The conversation went something like this:

Woman: I don’t appreciate you laughing while we are being inconvenienced.

Me: My apologies but we were certainly not laughing at your situation.

Woman: That doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t be laughing at all.

Me: Ummm…ok

Woman: I’ll be talking to my priest about it tomorrow.

From memory, I might have just nodded and continued me walk around the customers.

Surprisingly, my immediate thought wasn’t ‘What a miserable old bitch’. My first thoughts were 1) Is that why people go to church?; and 2) I feel sorry for her.

Working in high-volume customer service, I encounter miserable people that complain almost daily. On the whole, and putting things into perspective, their complaints are petty. There would have been a time when I would have reacted with irritation and anger. But perhaps due to some of my roles I performed over the last decade that dealt with death and real suffering, I see minor annoyances and complaining people as very small issues.

My honest response to miserable people now is pity. Are they so miserable that the smallest thing is an opportunity to be upset? Do they see no joy in life? Or maybe trying to demean others gives them pleasure? Either way, it is not a pleasant way to live and I feel sorry for them. Barely moments after our encounter, I have all but forgotten them but I assume they will continue to stew on the issue for some time after.

Life is hard, why make it harder when something minor disrupts your day. Just go with the flow, there will be plenty of really bad experiences in your life to test you without worrying about being 2 minutes late or your coffee is slightly too hot.

And if you come across one of these people, just let there bad energy slide over you. Don’t absorb it and take on their negative point of view on life.

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Tall poppy syndrome – The curse of the insecure

I was prompted to blog by a comment made during a podcast episode I listened to recently. On the Tim Ferris show, Phil Keoghan – The Magic of Bucket Lists and Amazing Races was interviewed. Phil is the host of the Amazing Race and originates from New Zealand.

Amongst topics discussed, Phil mentions the phrase Tall Poppy Syndrome in relation to the mindset of a lot of people from New Zealand. The term relates to maintaining conformity and not standing out from the crowd, such as in a field of poppies with one taller than the others. To keep things equal, the taller poppy will be cut down to size.

Phil uses the example of the NZ All Blacks, the champion national Rugby Union team. The All Blacks are arguably the highest achieving team ever in world Rugby Union, however, in line with the NZ mentality, they will understate their greatness.

This reminded me of Greg Norman’s win at the 1993 British Open with a final round of 64. Following the round, Norman quipped that “I’m in awe of myself” as he didn’t miss hit a shot. I recall that this comment was discussed in Australia almost more than his win. It was considered discourteous to the other players and arrogant. I could argue though that he was actually understating his normal ability and he just had a great day.

In Australia, anyone who has achieved celebrity through their success is in constant danger of being cut down at the slightest perceived indiscretion. Any comment is taken out of context, their personal life is massively scrutinised, they are lambasted for not contributing their great wealth to charity….the list goes on.

Paul Hogan was considered a national treasure until he achieved worldwide fame with Crocodile Dundee. Initially, he was the still the regular Aussie bloke that made good. But then, his relationship to his co-star was made public. He was then a cheater that let a bit of fame make him forget family values. He wasn’t quite disowned but his public image was massively diminished.

Why can’t we celebrate the success of others instead of trying to bring them down to our level? Instead of looking for fault, why aren’t we looking to learn from them instead? Is their public life really any of our business? Being a tall poppy in Australia is a terrible burden. Be a nobody and fail miserably and constantly and no one cares.

However, it seems that in the US, being a tall poppy is something to be proud of. Sure, the failures of the high-flyers make the press, such as Tiger Wood’s infidelity and Donald Trump’s misguided comments. But it seems that this is more of identifying that everyone can make mistakes rather than wanting them to fail (though maybe with Trump I could be wrong). I doubt I would be wrong in saying that the US would love it if Tiger was the best again.

Maybe Australia could learn some lessons from the pride that American’s have in themselves and country. Pride is considered a character fault in Australia. Why should it be though? Australia is a great place to live, with an envious quality of living but we are happy to hide in the shadows.

To steal a quote from the movie Troy when a messenger boy comments to Achilles, ‘The Thesselonian you’re fighting…he’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t want to fight him’. Achilles responds ‘That’s why no-one will remember your name’. Come on Australia, strive for greatness and be a tall poppy! If you are too insecure to admire the success of others, keep your undermining comments to yourself and live in obscurity. No one will remember you anyway.

Surround yourself with people that challenge you to grow

I don’t enjoy getting old. I don’t wake up with the same energy as I used to when I was young and my knees remind me every day that I pushed them too hard in my 20’s.

However, with age comes experience and an opportunity to reflect on decisions made. I don’t live with regret but all the same, there are choices that I made that would have influenced my life in better ways.

One such decision was the choice of friends that I made. If you have read any of my posts, you may see that I have not always been the most confident of people and have resorted to alcohol on many occasions to manage.

A logical choice of friends would be around people that positively influence my perceived ‘need’ to drink and to enjoy life while being sober. However, rather than do that, I chose friends that only supported and encouraged the self-destructive behaviour.

I won’t rehash my post The evolution of my Friday’s that details my drinking but just say that I did escape my desperate need to drink by actually leaving the city I lived in. Now, I rarely drink and if I do, it’s for enjoyment of the taste.

Another aspect of choosing a friend when I was younger was to have people around me that didn’t challenge me. By this I mean that they displayed behaviour that wouldn’t influence me to be a better person. My friends were not ambitious in terms of career, relationships or financially. Any success they achieved was managed through longevity in a business, not through developing networks, education or taking risks. My two closest previous friends have clocked up 30 and 20 years of continuous service in the one agency.

This is not to disrespect their choices but for me, I wanted to achieve more but failed to have the right friends that would influence me to greater success. Again, my friends did not take financial risks and to date, do not have investment properties or share portfolios. Any discussion on the subject would be met with the possibility of losing money rather than the chance to make money.

When discussion came to my longer-term goals, often times I would be given advice that I should stick with my current job and save money for retirement. There was no encouragement and debate about ways that I could start working towards achieving my goals only ways that it would not be possible.

The problem is not necessarily my friends. They are who they are and that’s fine. They have a number of good qualities other than those that will make me grow. The problem is more so that I was not strong enough to take challenges on myself and didn’t chose another network of friends that lived at another level to what I lived at.

To be honest, I was scared to hang around people that were better educated, had higher-level jobs and were successful. I thought they would consider me beneath them. With experience and exposure to some very successful business people, I have found the opposite. Many of these people are not only willing to share their knowledge but are also very down to earth and treat me as an equal.

I guess my point is that I shouldn’t have limited who I let into my inner circle just because of my own insecurities. I should have encouraged other relationships with people of all walks of life to learn from them and improve myself. A good person is a good person. If they have success qualities that I can learn from, that is to my benefit.

It actually sounds quote parasitic but I consider I have values of my own that I can share and add value to their lives. Unfortunately, I did not consider that the case when I was younger and I was good only as the party clown. My better qualities were normally diminished once I started to drink.

If you have goals that do not align with those around you, open yourself to opportunities to meet and befriend those that have big goals and have achieved in life. Don’t dismiss your current friends but don’t limit yourself. You might find also that finding people that share the same values and goals that you do will give you greater peace of mind and happiness.

Be your own normal

For a large part of my life, I tried desperately to be normal. What I mean is that I tried to conform with what the majority of people were doing.

With age and reflection, my past attempts to try to be normal led me down paths that gave me no happiness and were at times, exhausting and destructive.

It was only when I reached my mid 40’s that I realised that for me to normal I had to  follow my natural instincts and do what feels right for me.

I’ll give you an example. I was always under the belief that being socially active was the normal thing to do. Attending morning teas and parties is what everyone else would do, so I followed suit. However, I found that the only way I could attend a function with a large group of people and feel at all comfortable was to drink alcohol. And not just a beer or two but to binge. This obviously is not the healthiest thing to do but probably worse is that I acted completely different to my own personality. I was loud and out-going, where I am generally reserved and reflective. Strangely enough, the loud and out-going me was quite successful with women but needless to say, when they met the real me, it was awkward and things did not progress.

That is just one example of where I have followed a path in the past to be normal and socially accepted. Others have been:

  • Following a safe and secure career path
  • Buying a particular type of car, or car in general
  • Wearing a particular brand of clothes
  • Not taking risks with career or finances

I’m not sure exactly what the trigger was but one day I started to consider that maybe I should put myself first rather than worry what others thought of me. Maybe it was from a discussion I was having with a friend from a previous job. He is very attracted to men, however, he insisted that he wanted to get married to a woman and have children. When I pressed him a little, he responded that it would make his family happy and it was what they did in his culture.

I didn’t argue the point further but it did seem strange that he was doing something to make other people happy and to meet his cultural standards rather than following what was natural to him. Anyway, it made me consider my choices. Was I basing my choices on what was right for me or just to conform.

I realised then and more so since, there are so many 07403197a4f3c8e09d8d5128febdf78fthings that are normal to others but seem abnormal to me. Some that come to mind:

  • The Kardashian’s. While I love reality TV, I cannot see the universal appeal for this family. To me, this family seems to lead a existence without substance. To me this doesn’t serve as entertainment yet their every movement is of social importance.
  • Going to church or following a religion in general. I won’t get into a theological debate on this one. I’m very spiritual and I’m a strong believer in karma but organised religion and praying to a God does not seem logical to me.
  • Buying a ‘forever’ home. I rarely stay in a home for more then 2-3 years. To wake up in the same room for the rest of my life seems depressing.
  • Having children. I don’t particularly like children and don’t feel compelled to have my name carried on.
  • Working for one company your whole career. I actually admire this but it isn’t for me. To my career advancement detriment, I change jobs frequently.

Please, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of the points above. They are simply my opinions and I don’t judge anyone for thinking the opposite. Well, in the case of the Kardashian’s, I pretty much assume you are not right in the head if you like them! What I really mean is, what is right for one person does not mean that it has to be the only way.

Recently, I was in conversation with a colleague at work. He was telling me that on the weekend he had some activities to do with his family. He asked if I was married and had kids and I said no. He asked me then ‘So what do you do then?’. I actually took offence at this comment as I perceived he was judging me and that my life had no value without a wife and kids. This bugged me for a while until it came to me that he didn’t know me, what I had done in my life or what my interests were. His life was not normal for me but I didn’t judge him for choosing it and he shouldn’t have judged me.

To summarise my point in a nutshell, I would say ‘Follow your own path’. Do what feels right for you and makes you happy. I would much prefer to be considered an eccentric that goes by the beat of his own drum than a sheep that follows the herd.

In saying all this, you still have to follow some reasonable societal standards. For instance, regardless if it feels normal or not, you should not purposely break laws just because it feels right. Also, you must be reasonably considerate of others. To swear loudly on a crowded train may feel comfortable for you but would be unpleasant for others and may get you a punch upside the head.

In general though, be your own normal. I definitely feel more calm, content and happy then when I tried to be everyone else.

Creating positive family values

At work yesterday, I observed a scene that I see all too frequently. A couple with numerous children in tow carrying a document that allows them free public transport. These documents are provided to those that are too destitute to afford the cost of transport.

Sadly, as I often see accompanying these cases, the father (?) was yelling out to the children in an angry and loud voice ‘hurry the f**k up!!’. The children and mother with pram, poorly dressed and trodden down, running to catch up. No holding hands, no loving smiles, just abusive and foul language in this family unit.

Sadly, I commonly see both situations together in my position in high-volume customer service. The family apparently too poor to afford public transport and aggressive, foul-mouthed adults.

There are two aspects that arise out of this situation for the children:

  • They grow up with an understanding that they are entitled to support. The Australian government has developed an incredible financial environment for those that are incapable of working. However, there seems to be growing number of people who create their life around rorting the system to their benefit. Each child entitles them to additional benefit that seems to be utilised for the purposes of additional alcohol, cigarettes and fast food rather than to care for their growing family.
  • The children grow up with an abusive mindset, whether it be physical or verbal. If not abusive, at least un-loving. Again, it is not uncommon for me to see unaccompanied children under 10 travelling after midnight. Often, the children do not have money (or claim they don’t anyway) for the tickets to travel. I have no authority to enforce a paid ticket, so the child learns that paying for tickets is for idiots. These same children have little respect for adults either, and I often receive a mouth full of obscenities if I ask for a valid ticket.

Please don’t get me wrong, I have real empathy for those that, for whatever reason, do not have the capability to work for mental or physical reasons or, for no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times. They genuinely need the help either for quality of life or to help them back on to their feet.

In the other cases though, the cycle will probably be continued. Bad family environment surrounded by neglect and abuse, total avoidance of legitimate work at all costs and swindle the government for handouts.

Later in the day, I engaged in conversation with a colleague. This discussion was in complete opposition to that which I had witnessed earlier in the day.

My colleague Peter (pseudonym) has 7 children. He is not a financial rich person by any means. His family lives on his salary alone. His family does not do without but only spend money on what is necessary.

He shared that he is a firm but not a strict father and tries to instil in his children positive values. Should one of children make a mistake, he explains to them that everyone makes mistakes but they must use it to learn why it was the wrong thing and how to avoid repeating. A saying he uses with his children, ‘there is no right way to do the wrong thing’. I got the impression that his children are not scared of the punishment they will receive if they do something wrong but are just scared of disappointing.

One his adult children has become quite successful at football and has obtained a contract overseas for $250,000 a year, which will increase each year of his contract. Providing he sustains no serious injury, his son will be financially secure at the end of his football career. Peter said that he asked his son what he intended to do with his money, his son replied ‘Buy a house for mum’. After reading so many stories of young sports stars behaving like brats on and off the ‘field’ and spending their money lavishly on sports cars, partying and drugs, it was refreshing to hear that a successful young man’s first thought was for his family and not himself.

Peter recounted several stories, each that demonstrated his love for his family and the values that he endeavoured to instil in his children. One story was of one of his young daughters had asked for extra sandwiches with peanut butter and jam (jelly) for school. When asked why, she said she wanted to share some sandwiches with kids that didn’t have sandwiches. His same daughter, who is a keen baker at only 10, will take her baked products to school to share. Peter said that he had always encouraged his children to share and was proud that his daughter was demonstrating this already at an early age.

Another story was that household chores were shared without complaint. He said that chores more often than not become more of a social time for the family. When washing up dishes, the family would engage in conversation so the ‘chore’ was not something that was looked upon as something horrible but something enjoyable.

I was fascinated with Peter’s stories. In no way was he preaching that he was the best father in the world or that what he did was the only way. He was just talking to me about his children and his life. I was the one that was taking the moral values that his stories were illustrating.

By chance, I had met one of his daughters the previous day. I’m guessing she was late teens. She came up to ask me where Peter was working that day in the building. It would be difficult to find a more lovely, respectful and polite young lady. I saw Peter later and he advised that she was bringing his lunch for the day. She was a positive example of the way that Peter and his wife have brought up their children.

Interestingly, Peter has a background working in prisons. He says he is was exposed to many prisoners that had committed terrible crimes and there was often a high-level of aggression towards him during his work day. This experience would harden many people but Peter is a gentle, humble and softly spoken man. His nature is such that I find myself matching his manner and it is difficult to get upset in his presence. In saying that, should trouble occur, he is formidable and will diffuse a situation quickly.

It was an interesting day of contrast but in a way, exactly the same. Both families creating a culture of values that is likely to be continued to their next family. One positive and one negative.

The best career advice I ever received

In 2009, I moved from Canberra (possibly the dullest capital city on earth) to Sydney. Sydney was the polar opposite of Canberra. It has a vibrant, exciting and cosmopolitan culture, with a never-ending amount of sights to see and things to do. I was really excited about starting my new life in Sydney.

I arrived to a new role in recruitment. Within only days, I realised that it was not a job for me, so I started to furiously send out applications for other job opportunities. I applied for jobs where I had experience and could perform confidently.

After a couple of weeks, I secured an interview for a role in payroll. Unlike most interviews I had attended, I found that I was not particularly motivated prior to the meeting and had undertaken almost zero preparation.

The interview got underway and I started to answer the questions but again, I was struggling. I didn’t have that nervous energy that I almost always have in interviews. My answers were satisfactory but flat.

After 20 minutes, it seemed the interviewer was sensing that, while I was responding reasonably well, I just wasn’t into it. He paused, then asked ‘Why did you apply for this role?’. I normally have a formulated response that demonstrates my interest in the role, the opportunities it provides, how it utilises my skills…blah, blah, all that sort of stuff. This time, I hesitated, then blurted out ‘I need a new job and I have experience in payroll work’.

After such a response, I am surprised I wasn’t escorted out the door with a kick up the ass for wasting his time. However, he reflected for a moment and said ‘What sort of work do you want to do?’. I looked back with blank eyes and said ‘I don’t know’. Was that important??

His next comment was simple advice but completely changed the way I have looked at work from then on. ‘Look at your CV and every job you have ever done. Work out what is the one thing about every job that you enjoyed. Find that and follow it.’

I left the interview feeling confused. I had always applied for jobs where I had the experience and capabilities that met the advertised role. I had never applied for a job where the main criteria was, do what you enjoy.

That night, I reviewed my CV, which had developed into the size of a small phone book with the number of jobs I had accumulated. I looked at every job. What did I enjoy about each job. It didn’t actually take long for me to realise that what I enjoyed was providing customer service. Customer service where I genuinely helped people with no benefit to me to be exact.

I started my job search with a new purpose. I sought out jobs where I could help people. Roles were somewhat limited as a lot of customer service roles had a sales component that didn’t appeal to me. However, I did eventually find one role that provided services to people with dust diseases (I will explain this another day). I was excited! This was the feeling I wanted. I researched the role, the company, the relevant diseases and drafted up an application for the role and sent it off to the company.

Shortly after, I was made redundant from my job at the recruitment company. After a couple of hours of feeling miserable as I hadn’t lost a job since I was 15, I felt great! The job was unhealthy for me and I could now focus on looking for a positive job. I had a few thousand dollars saved and could access unemployment benefits, so I calculated I could survive a few months without finding myself out on the street.

I picked up a couple of casual hours of work here and there over the next few weeks until I received a call asking me in for an interview for the dust diseases job. Over the next week, I started furiously studying everything I could and creating hypothetical questions they may ask.

The interview day came. What a difference from the payroll job. I was excited, confident and enthusiastic. I answered each questions with detail and great examples. When they asked me the same question about why I applied for the job, I responded with an answer that was honest. The short message being, I wanted to help people. I walked out confident I had the job. Luckily I didn’t know at the time that 160 people had applied for the job or my confidence may have wavered.

Over the following weeks (and months it turned out), I barely even looked at other jobs. I was so sure I had secured the dust diseases job and just had to wait. I waited so long that my unemployment benefits were going to be withdrawn but I was barely concerned. I would get the job.

And I did. My first pay arrived literally days before I was totally broke.

I loved the job. Every day I coordinated services for people with terminal diseases to provide quality of life up to their death. Depressing for some, rewarding for me. I stayed with the role for 5 years and other than management going in a new direction with the role, I would still be there today.

The pay wasn’t great to be honest but I was doing what I enjoyed. I didn’t struggle to get out of bed to work each day. I worked hard every day but rarely felt drained. I usually left for the day thinking about how many people I could help the next day and how I could do my job better.

That advice I received (from an unlikely source) has led me in the roles I seek out now. Do what you enjoy. Money is necessary but surely being happy about what you are doing is at least as important.


 

 

Have you offered your hand lately?

I made a trip to IKEA today to pick up a new kitchen sink. The new kitchen had been installed 4 months ago but the sink I wanted was out of stock at the time. The waiting time of 4-6 weeks had drifted out somewhat and I have tired of washing dishes in my bathroom basin.

Well, the sink arrived back in stock today, so I went to collect.

IMG_3710

I walked out of IKEA today and had in mind to blog about the genius of the IKEA concept and in-store marketing and how it has influenced the décor of homes today. However, that has already been covered perfectly in Fight Club.

The IKEA closest to me has a separate warehouse for the collection of some of the larger items. You wait at the front of the warehouse and the items are rolled out by staff on a trolley for your collection.

I was waiting for my order when I saw a young lady pushing a trolley out the door with a very large mirror on top. My order came out next, so I pushed my trolley out to the car park. I looked across and saw the young lady attempting unsuccessfully to place her very large mirror inside her small hatchback. Unless she broke the mirror in two, there was no way that it would fit.

I walked over and asked if she wanted me to put her mirror in the back of my ute and drop it to her place. The young lady was very thankful, so I loaded the mirror onto the ute and delivered it to her home.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to bask in the glow of adoration for my good deed today. Quite the opposite. The experience actually made me realise how apathetic to people in obvious need. I was, in fact, hesitant to ask the young lady if she needed help. Partly, because it would inconvenience me and also as my offer of help be taken as a sneaky sexual advance. The later possibly getting a ‘F**k off you old bugger’ directed at me.

I reflected on how many times I have looked the other way when I could have offered a hand to people. There used to be a time when I would pull over to the side of the road and help to push a car that had broken down. Now I just think of how pulling over would cause me to be late for some ‘important’ engagement.

The thought disappointed me. Had I become so self-absorbed that I can’t even make the effort to offer help to a fellow person in need? Am I really that important that the world will come to an end if I’m 5 minutes late to an appointment? Has society changed so much that any offer of help from a male stranger should be viewed with caution? Well, in the case of the last point, as I’m 6’3″, have a shave head and numerous tattoos, maybe erring on the side of caution is understood.

I try to have the point of view that any experience is an opportunity to learn. Today I learned that I could be more caring towards people. Offering a hand, a kind word or even a smile takes little effort but gives back so much.