An awkward moment ….

At work yesterday, I was asked by a senior colleague to assist a new worker lift some heavy items as she was pregnant. She wasn’t an especially large woman but had a fairly substantial baby bump.

I followed her to the storeroom and saw her pick up a large box. I advised her not to do that and that I was there to lift the heavier things. She responded with ‘I’m not pregnant’. Awkward moment! I tried to ignore the comment and changed the subject. She went on with ‘I was pregnant last year and I’m trying to lose weight at the moment’. The awkwardness continued.

Thankfully, she wasn’t upset and I managed to complete the task quickly and escape quickly without further adding to my embarrassment.

I went back to the senior colleague and advised that the woman wasn’t pregnant. He responded without a raised eyebrow with ‘She was when I saw her last year’. Last year??! I’m no expert but a gestation period of 15 months is surely on the long side. To be honest, all I could do was laugh.

My embarrassment was shared. My manager (based again on my senior colleague’s advice), advised the woman to task it easy while she was pregnant. Thankfully, the woman took it all in her stride and found amusement in the fact that the manager went bright red when advised otherwise.

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I won’t be trusting that colleague again!

Anxious and depressed

The last few days I have noticed that I have been noticeably run down. Not feeling unwell but lacking in energy.

To counter the lack of energy and to stave off a possible cold or flu, I have been trying to take it easy and get a lot of sleep. Unfortunately, I had to work on the weekend and one of the mornings was very cold and I was situated in a breezeway.

I arrived home from work last night and did very little. I slumped in my lounge chair and stared at the TV screen for a couple of hours without taking much notice of what was on. I had almost zero energy to do anything but eat and take a shower.

In the back of my mind, a worry started to creep in about specialised work training that was due to commence today. The training would involve being around approximately 50 colleagues over 3 days. I had known about the training for a couple of weeks but only last night did I start to experience anxiety about being in a room with a large crowd.

I slept a bit restlessly and struggled to get out of bed when the alarm went off. I got up and started to wander around. I felt physically unwell and drained but not to the point of needing to take a day off sick. Unfortunately, what was overwhelming me was a feeling of anxiety and depression about the days training.

I went through the motions of having breakfast until I decided that I would not be able to confront the training and called in sick. I went back to bed and slept until 10:30 but awoke feeling no more refreshed.

For me, there is often a direct correlation between my physical and mental health. When I feel fit and healthy, I am able to cope difficult situations. Frequently, I am able to resolve matters calmly and methodically when others around me panic. However, when I feel rundown or sick, I find it impossible manage even simple matters and can barely face people. Not ideal when the job is face to face customer service.

Oftentimes, I am still physically able to attend the gym and train but the thought of going to work is overwhelming. I’m sure people would consider I am bludging as they don’t understand mental health and the impact it has.

I know the pain will pass in time but at the moment, that seems forever away, even if it is only a day or two. I also know that the training is essential and my absence today will be a black mark against my name.

Sometimes there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel and only dark.

Embarrass the lazy with your work ethic

Quite a few years back (maybe decades in fact), a new member joined the team. He turned up first day professionally dressed with nicely pressed shirt and pants and wearing a tie. He was a friendly guy but other than on scheduled breaks, he didn’t join in with social banter. He kept his head down and worked hard.

A few days into his work, I advised him that he could ease up a bit on his work output and there was no need to wear a tie. He politely thanked me for my advice and got back to his work. He continued to wear a tie and work hard every day.

After a while, the new guy started to make me uncomfortable. Definitely, he had done nothing wrong. His work was of a high quality, he arrived punctually for work and didn’t leave until he completed his work for the day. He took the minimum break allowed and only occasionally took coffee breaks. Even then, he would take his coffee back to his desk and drink rather than chat in the lunchroom. What was really making me uncomfortable was that he was making me embarrassed about my own work ethic.

I did arrive early for work but for the first half hour (at least), I would sip on a coffee, catch up on gossip with colleagues and send a few social emails. I would then work for an hour or so then take another break to wander around the office and say hello to people. Oftentimes I would spend a substantial part of the day sending out emails with regard to social activity for the weekend. In all honesty, I probably spent 3-4 hours at most at constructive work.

The new starter was putting me to shame and I felt it. He looked professional and acted it. I turned up primarily for my social agenda and to pick up an undeserved pay cheque.

Not surprisingly, the new starter received a higher opportunity after only a few months at work. Initially, I was annoyed as I had been there longer and blamed politics. After reflection though, and thankfully before I said anything stupid, I realised he deserved it a great deal more than me.

Admittedly, it did take me a few more years to really learn the lesson. I had started a new job and I committed myself to start fresh with the right attitude. I presented myself professionally daily and worked hard. If the end of the day came and I still needed to complete something, I would stay back to finish. I would regularly contribute ideas to make work more productive for the customer, even if it would occasionally result in more work for me. Funny enough, one of my colleagues said exactly what I had said previously, take it easy with the work and a tie isn’t necessary.

Little surprise when only a few months into the job I received an opportunity at a higher level. And guess what, I enjoyed my work a great deal more when I actually felt like I was making a positive contribution.

I have continued to present myself as a professional and work hard through several more jobs. I have frequently received higher opportunities and praise from managers. I also receive many comments from colleagues to pace myself with my work and dress more casually. I wonder if they are as embarrassed as I was a couple of decades earlier.

Whatever you do, do it great!

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.

Martin Luther King Jr

A great quote! Whatever the job is, do it to your best. Never consider a job too small or below you.

If an opportunity arises, don’t let your work ethic or attitude be the reasons you miss out.

Positive influences – It starts at home

This post is somewhat of an extension to Surround yourself with people that challenge you to grow.  Surrounding yourself with the right people is not especially challenging if you are motivated enough and have the courage to distance yourself from the people who bring you down.

However, over the last week, I have encountered several cases where the above is not really an option. That is, by having parents that are poor influences. Again, I am relying on my experiences at work where I have high-volume customer contact.

Example 1 relates to two separate cases where I was approached by an adult and a child. My role on the night was to advise that the trains weren’t running due to track maintenance and to provide them with options for Rail Bus travel. An inconvenience but not the end of the world. In both situations, I was in the middle of discussing the correct bus when the ‘adult’ turned away from me angrily and stated variations of ‘F**k off, you guys are hopeless’.

I’m big enough, old enough and ugly enough to let abuse roll off me. I all but forget the interaction immediately and move onto the next customer with a smile. However, how does this influence the child? They absorb that aggression and verbal abuse are the manner to interact with people when things don’t go their way.

Example 2 relates to a middle-aged woman who was visibly shivering on a platform. It was only slightly chilly, so I approached her to see if she was ok and if she needed an ambulance. Her son (so I found out later) pipped up to say she was ok and that she just had a ‘dirty shot’.

The son was in his early 20’s, barefoot and his clothes were clearly dirty. I will note also he was smoking on the platform in the middle of customers and I had to tell him to put the cigarette out as it was illegal.

I contacted my manager for advice. I found out that both the mother and son were well-known to police, with extension drug histories, aggressive behaviour towards customers and staff and never paid for tickets.

Again, what hope did this kid have to grow up to be a positive contributor to society? His main influence was an antisocial drug addict mother.

I’m sure there are countless examples of people with poor influences who have grown to be beautiful people and achieved amazing things. However, I will bet that the majority of children that grow up with poor parenting influences follow a very similar path.

For a number of reasons, I never became a parent. But surely when you have a child, the world becomes more than just you. Children are sponges and on the whole, look up to their parents.

Maybe if you can’t create a positive environment for your children, parenting might not be for you. How do you want your child to grow up? Think about what you say and do.

Self-limiting beliefs – Not for Cathy Hughes!

One of the biggest obstacles to success is having self-limiting beliefs. I’m definitely a victim to self-limiting thinking. Often I’m caught myself in doubt due to my age, lack of education, my mental health issues, financial situation or whatever else I can find in the dark recesses of my mind.

I came across a wonderful podcast today on How I Built This. This episode featured Cathy Hughes . Cathy is the founder of Radio One. She is now 70 years old and has a net worth of over $500 million.

I won’t go into every detail of Cathy’s story and recommend you listen to the podcast and read Wikipedia. The major points that I took from Cathy’s story is that she had no self-limiting beliefs. She had a goal and had no doubt that she would achieve it.

However, Cathy had several potential obstacles that many would consider insurmountable to achieve even minor success:

  • Lived in housing projects as a child
  • Was a single mother at 17
  • Is an African American woman
  • Lived in middle America
  • She started her career in the 60’s and 70’s, which I understand was a less enlightened time in the US for African Americans (I’m from Australia, so I wasn’t there to experience it)

Cathy apparently faced discrimination in her early days but again, she maintained focus on her goal and never doubted she would succeed.

Again, I won’t go into her whole story but one story she recounted was approaching financial institutions for a $1 million loan with only $10,000 in the bank. She went to 32 banks before getting the loan. 90% of people would give up after 2 or 3 banks but not Cathy. She said that she believed in the law of averages that every ‘No’ is one step closer to a YES. It is not hard to believe that she would have gone to 100 banks if she had to.

What if we all had the same confidence as Cathy that we would succeed despite self-imposed limits? Very few will achieve the success that Cathy has. Without question though, the person that follows a passionate goal without thought of failure will be far more successful then the one that finds reasons they can’t.

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.