9.15.2019

Better to underestimate and over-deliver than promise something you can't do

I almost had this post done, when I decided to delete what I wrote and start over, because it sounded like I was being way too critical of:
1) people who promise to meet you at a certain time and are late, even after promising they'd be there "soon," which sometimes could mean a half hour to a full hour
2) workers who promise to show up within a window of time, then show up after the window has closed, after not even bothering to call, and you have to call the company to find out what's going on, while they apathetically promise that they'll be there "soon"
3) tradesmen who promise they'll show up early, i.e., "you're the first in line, then you can get out of here when we're done," then don't show up until about two hours later, with no explanation or phone call, not even bothering to answer phone calls or emails to verify that they're even coming
4) companies that promise services that will arrive in "less than half an hour" and keep promising mere minutes but show up in three hours
5) shipping companies that promise to deliver a package by a certain day, then lie about not being able to deliver said package, even though there's always someone there to receive it
6) people who say they'll call back "right away," and the call never comes, or comes some days later
I could go on and on and bore people with details of people and companies that promise on-time something, and rarely live up to what they say. It would be much easier and more polite and honest to simply say what they really mean. If people aren't able to be somewhere, promising the impossible doesn't make us feel better; it makes us feel duped and annoyed if we're tight for time. The next time someone promises me something, I'm going to ask them what they really mean. Are they really going to be there in a few minutes, or are they going to be quite late? Are they really going to show up by 2:00, or are they not going to be able to make it because they have a lot of things lined up before me?

The other day, I figured traffic would be bad, so I told someone I might be 15 minutes late. Instead, I was 5 minutes late. I told someone else I'd get something done by the morning. Instead, I got it done that night. It's a lesson I learned from Scotty: better to surprise people by getting something done faster than they expected.

9.01.2019

I got a free book but didn't like it

I was contacted by a major publisher about a book that I might be interested in reading (and reviewing) because it was language-oriented, and I was excited because I had just finished reading Laura Caldwell's The Night I Got Lucky, which was published back in the mid-aughts. It had been sitting on my shelf for several years, and I wasn't motivated to read it because I was more of a non-fiction type of person, and when I tried to read it, it seemed silly. But I didn't want to get rid of it because I actually met her, we exchanged emails, and she signed the book when I bought it. Now she's a very successful author and everything else, thus I had met her in the very early stages of her fiction-writing career.

After reading some other novels and really enjoying them (though not enjoying one whose movie was way better than the book), I finally picked hers up, and it was fantastic. It was entertaining and thought-provoking, and now I realize that she nailed story-telling and structure very well to the point that I want to do the same (though she now writes on more serious topics and seems to do a lot of stuff that isn't frivolous).

So it was at this point when the publisher contacted me, offering me a book because they thought it would fit with what I write about here and probably do for work (which requires me to apply lots of grammatical and English-language knowledge). I got the book and started reading it immediately. But there really wasn't much of a story, and I couldn't relate to the characters. I found that I didn't even really know the characters, and nothing was prompting me to keep turning the pages other than to find out if the first few pages would be answered (which they weren't for like a hundred pages later, where I wanted to give up anyway). The book seemed to glide over life instead of getting inside the characters' heads and hearts and letting us know what their struggles were. It skimmed the surface and seemed pleased with itself instead of turning outward towards us to pull us into the world where they had to deal with various trials, and clever phrases were uttered instead of genuine dialog. I seriously didn't understand why the book got such great reviews, and how the author got such a book published after having some best-sellers.

Was I missing something? I went online and found some reviews with thoughts similar to my own, then noticed that a number of people got free books through Netgalley or by being active on Goodreads or just being popular book bloggers. What's great is that some of the reviewers who got the book for free gave an honest review, even saying that they didn't finish it because it wasn't good enough to waste any more time. Others liked it, but weren't really specific. But other than those digital reviewers (and I have no problem with publishers contacting them or going through Netgalley or other sites to get exposure), I noticed that a lot of established, successful authors gave glowing reviews as well, which made me wonder if they were friends with the author or people in the publishing house or whoever was connected with the author/book/company/whatever.

Then I wondered if I should just say nothing online about the book, because the publisher had taken the time and money to send it to me, and they "deserved" a good review, and if I wasn't going to give one, I should remain silent. But then that's dishonest advertising, and would mean that they're essentially paying for positive publicity by giving us something for free. And there was nothing in their emails or snail-mail that suggested I should do that. They were totally ethical and just wanted to find a niche outlet that fit their book. I looked at discussions online, and found a blog post that said people should be honest in their reviews. Since I am not a dedicated book blogger like those other folks are, I really don't have to deal with this issue often, and if I don't like a book, I do a quick negative rating on Bookdigits and move on.

So I decided to write about my experience rather than the book itself, and if they ask me via email what I think, I'll be honest and say I didn't like it. Maybe if I were writing publicly I would be more diplomatic, but I just did not want to spend any more time with the book. And while I appreciate them reaching out to me, it doesn't guarantee a positive review. I'll just rate it at Bookdigits and move on to better books.

8.25.2019

I hate self-serving posts that are cheap teases for nothing

Sometimes I see someone's interesting blog post on LinkedIn or wherever (I don't know if LinkedIn would want them called "blog posts" at this point; I think they're called stories or updates or whatever), and I'll read along, thinking I'm going to get some good advice, and they'll end up being self-serving promotional pieces. Like (and I'm totally making this up, but it reflects the kind of stuff I've read) "and if you really want to maximize your personal branding, it's important to get a professional to help. We have many services that will get you on the right track." I was going to link to an actual "post" or "story" or whatever the professional was broadcasting, but I thought it would be rude, plus it would only give them more exposure, when what they were doing was deceptive and sort of manipulative.

I remember the days (and other people do too) when the Internet was more sincere. People shared their ideas online and were more authentic. Of course, there were people who created clickbait and who wanted to promote themselves, which is fine, but now it's harder to find posts that are just enjoyable writing. I'm not saying there are no posts like that out there, and I'd say that in addition to the relatively few expressive non-self-serving bloggers who share themselves online more than the stylized snaps that have come to dominate the Web, LifeHack seems to be a commercial site that probably makes the founder lots of money, but contains writing that sounds human instead of a way to capture people with hollow content.

I know that lots of people got the memo that they should be into personal branding, which includes a website, social media, and a blog (though for some reason people are saying they don't really "matter" anymore, even though people like to read good writing and don't always want to look at just 100 words or pretty pictures), and I totally agree that personal branding is important. In fact, I'm in the midst of wondering what I should be doing because my online and offline life have changed, my goals are changing, and I really don't know how I'm going to present myself at this point. I'm pitifully scattered and really should be focusing more, but that doesn't mean I'm going to write advice columns that end up with the punchline that you should hire me for something, when you'll really find out the "secrets" to success or whatever.

If people promise advice or information in their title and their SEO-oriented subhead or topic sentence, then they should deliver it, free of pulling people into their agenda. Their writing should help people so that they walk away with life-enhancing content, not a sinking feeling that they'd been had.

8.18.2019

I had the best day at work yesterday

Initially, I wrote about this in my Keel's Simple Diary, but I felt like I needed to elaborate publicly, though waited a day to see if it was wise to do so (i.e., if I should get personal in the online world of carefully curated text and images).

But when I woke up, I still had the feeling that I had the best day at work, and I feel like I should publicly record such an event, though I can't be specific because the people involved have no idea that I'm writing this post.

First of all, I had to wake up way before dawn, so you'd think the odds would be stacked against me because I got only a few hours of sleep. When I walked in, I saw someone I'd known for a while, and talked about our podcasting efforts. They're very successful at it and make money, and I've lost steam due to having interviewed lots of people and wanting to do more stuff in other realms. But what I've noticed is that when you talk about your struggles and dreams with someone, it helps solidify your goals. I'm still working on setting new goals, but at least I had someone to talk to along the way.

Then I got down to work, and the boss of the day was super-chill and very kind when certain things weren't lined up as they should have been. The atmosphere in the room was very relaxed, which matches what a Saturday morning should be. I thought that would be the extent of the experience: the understanding, motivated podcaster, and the relaxed boss. But then I was able to talk to someone else I hadn't seen in a while about work-oriented issues elsewhere, and my worry about those issues was minimized. And later we talked about writing, editing, and how they got published, and I felt some of my questions were answered, though I still wonder how I can get my own act together to transfer the ideas of my fake blog into a developed story.

While I continued doing my work, I saw a story about research that reveals that a certain percentage of people cry at work. I admitted to the few folks who were there that I had cried in my work life, and then saw someone who used to work at a place where such crying took place (though that's not only place, thus why I read the excellent Asshole Survival Guide). We talked about stuff at that toxic place that I hadn't known about before, and I said that if I'd known they were going through all that, I wouldn't have felt so horrible or paranoid there, and I wouldn't have felt so alone in my struggles. What I've learned throughout the years of working in toxic situations, in addition to having to get out of there ASAP, is to talk to other people to avoid feeling alone and isolated, because in the past, I have felt that way. The person told me stuff that a lot of people around town don't know about, and it wasn't about gossiping but revelation, because I really had no idea they had experienced all that. I thought they were in the preferred group while I was struggling towards the bottom.

As daylight was clearly established and the hours were winding down, a cool coworker showed up, and they did their work while I did mine, which is refreshing because it's super-annoying when you're working on a team where some people are either lazy or not detail-oriented. We talked about random stuff while they let me get some work done that was due, and then I went home to take a long nap.

In addition to simply liking the work I did, I was working in an atmosphere that was what a workplace should be: not stressful, trustworthy and talented people, positivity, learning opportunities, insight, emotional safety, and freedom.

I've worked in various situations, and while I've gone home thinking I had a good day, got lots done, and had no dysfunctional incidents, I've still had to be on guard, shut my mouth, stay within my lane (because I'm not at the top of the hierarchy of personality), and be on my best behavior, essentially suppressing my personality to survive conformity. There are workplace-cultural rules that people should not speak out of turn, should not show exuberance, and should only work within relevance. Yesterday's experience defied all that and we all survived well, and still produced results. I dared to speak to others who were more successful and they didn't diss or deride me for it, and I felt like I had fun and connected with others, which is rare in the robotic world that the anti-social aggressors have established. There are more days like that, which I'll write about in the future, because they have to be publicly acknowledged so that we can work against the coldness of efficiency.

7.12.2019

My favorite TV show is Japanese

A long time ago, when I was still listed on Languagehat's blog list, someone complained that this blog wasn't totally language-oriented, especially because I would write about TV. What I should have said is that I was still working at home doing language-oriented work such as editing, writing, proofreading, and translating, and I would watch TV as a diversion or put it on in the background. I spent many days working at home, and the silence would sometimes cause more loneliness, so the TV and radio and Internet media were on to create some kind of companionship (when people say they want to work at home, I don't think they understand how isolating it can feel...I did it for years and still do it every week).

Now that I spend more time working outside my home (which I'm very happy about...I never want to work at home all the time ever again), I still watch TV, but I watch at the end of the day or very early in the morning. I have become a fan of NHK World, which has some boring shows, but has some interesting ones as well. What helps is that they don't dub all their shows, so if I want to listen to Japanese (since I rarely see Japanese people in Chicago), I can watch the Japanese video and read the subtitles if I don't understand (which is often). NHK is really a promotional outlet for Japan, and their positive images make me want to go there again. It's probably the best place to travel in Asia, and I would like to travel the entire country by train.

Recently, I have become hooked on an excellent show called Document 72 Hours. The NHK crew goes to a single location and films people over a 72-hour period, and people tell their revealing stories. It is so interesting and a slice of real life...it's truly reality TV. When I'm watching, I don't want it to end because so much more could be discovered, but they only have 25 minutes to work with. I'm surprised there's nothing like it in the US. Having such a show even just in Chicago would be fascinating and entertaining, and there are so many places to go, the crew would get a lot of content. Even just doing an audio series would be interesting...I wonder if anyone has done it. I'm just thinking out loud here, but maybe someone would want to pursue it...I can help out :D

7.09.2019

If you work with jerks, read this book!

I read the excellent book The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt a while ago, but I was so afraid of being too emotional about it, that I waited to do a post about it because I thought I'd come off as sounding whiny or pitiful. But it was important for me to do this post because I've told some people about it offline, and I want to let as many people know about it as possible.

If you've experienced toxic work environments, mean people, or workplace cruelty, then you'll know how it can make you feel. Maybe you're in such a situation now, but you don't realize it because you're rationalizing the situation, thinking it will get better. It won't, unless those people leave. Or maybe you're becoming one of those people, the result of what one of Bob Sutton's readers calls an "a$$hole factory." Whether you're suffering or are working in a healthy environment, you should read this book. It will change your perspective and cause you to proceed differently from now on.

This book has really helped me, and after reading it, I was angry at myself for staying in at least a couple toxic environments for too long, and tolerating an abuser in another mildly toxic place. The book talks about the signs of a screwed-up establishment, and I stupidly went ahead and worked there anyway, ignoring the obvious. Then I suffered and felt horrible, and basically internalized the mud that was thrown at me. So that's what I thought about as I was reading this book: how could I let that happen, how could I end up hating myself, why didn't I leave ASAP when things quickly got worse. After a few weeks, I forgave myself and vowed to never be a victim again.

Even if you feel like you've established an a-hole-free lifestyle, it's not always easy to avoid people who make you feel bad. Actually, I shouldn't say it like that, because people shouldn't be *making* you feel a certain way, but as Sutton quotes someone else, "at the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel."

When someone is cruel or obnoxious or says insulting things in your non-work life, it's not hard to cut them out or to greatly minimize interaction. You can simply choose to not socialize with them, or decrease interactions at family functions, obligatory events, etc. But when you're stuck with such people at work, you can't just quit (though Sutton says to get out of a toxic environment ASAP, which I hesitated to do a few times...but I've learned that lesson now!). So this book gives concrete advice, other than what the lame articles online say, such as "meet with your manager," or "write a flowery email," or negotiate somehow. Many people aren't in such structured situations, and sometimes the workplace is too small to be able to do something constructive. What Sutton does is offer many examples of what a-holes are, if they're just temporary or certified, and even ways to recognize how you're choosing to ignore the signs and are rationalizing the toxicity away.

And most importantly, he offers strategies for dealing with the jerks. Most people would probably create their own mix, but he breaks it down, in addition to offering the general "Don't engage with crazy":

  • create distance
  • limit exposure
  • slow interaction and responses via email, etc. 
  • be bland and a chameleon, basically seen but not noticed (this is especially hard for people like me who like to express our personalities and talk, but amazingly, I've been so successful at it, people think I'm an introvert, which I'm not...such acting skills are worth another post actually)
  • find a safe space
  • find humor in the situation
  • focus on the positive
  • think about your goals
  • distance yourself from the situation, even into the future
  • it's them, not you
  • detach (which I've successfully done, though I felt like I was turning cold)
  • reframe 

There's also other advice, but it really depends on who you work with; for instance, maybe there are people who can be "shields" or others who you can team up with. I wish someone out there would write more about when you're either physically alone in a job, or very isolated, or one of the few (or only) who is experiencing hardship. One thing I learned was that we're not alone in our suffering. Even if you're not around other people, or seem to be suffering alone, all you have to do is read this book to see how many examples of a-holes there are in various industries. Another thing I've done is simply talk to people about their trials. But overall, if you've worked or are working in a place that is so polluted you can barely breathe, get out! Well, first get another job or get rich, then leave! That's his basic advice.

I barely scratched the surface, and I would love to go into detail of my negative experiences and how they messed me up and how I found tiny triumphs, but I obviously can't do that. I guess the only way I'd be able to write about my work experiences is if I became super-wealthy and essentially didn't need the approval of others anymore. Anyway, here's a video of the excellent author giving the basic concepts of dealing with jerks. THANKS BOB SUTTON!

6.27.2019

Working alone is a luxury

When I started this blog, I was working alone a lot at home, and I really started to hate it. I couldn't find many people online who were struggling with it, probably because not a lot of people were doing it, or they were doing it but weren't complaining about it online. Eventually I found one person who complained about it, but by that time I'd been toiling in obscurity for a while. Now there are lots of articles online about it, so I'm thinking that I was initially an outlier, then societal trends and the changing economy kicked in, and voila...something I'd been doing since the dawn of the Internet became a regular thing (which is why I eventually experienced a drought a few years ago...unexpected competition).

So after dealing with working at home and working in isolating introverted situations, I managed to find more extroverted situations to offset the introverted ones. And it was worth it! I now experience both, which is fine with me, because I still have nerdy pursuits, but I can also be in more social, team-oriented workplaces. Great! I was going to drop the introverted-type of stuff, but I like the stability and like maintaining a serial-comma world, where commas make sense and are used properly (which I've never posted about, but I will eventually).

So as I was chugging along, ready to do the home work, something awful happened: my fancy Apple Desktop, which has enough power to process audio, video, text, graphics, etc., and make everything run and look optimal, crashed to the point that I think it has died. The graphics card is creating stripes and whiteness of death, and I cannot use it. This happened just when I was having to create a new podcast, plus proofread some substantial scientific papers, plus do online homework at a multimedia site, plus do other stuff that can only be done on a RAM-filled, fully loaded iMac. I was already behind, so I decided to go to the public library to use their computer to get some time-sensitive work done.

Wow, what we take for granted. First of all, I had to wait for a computer. When I was able to start working, people were making noise around me, including a guy who was ranting to himself and other people, and another guy who was listening to loud music. I politely asked the music guy to lower it, and he amazingly complied. The timer was set, because the library lets people use the computers for a predetermined amount of time. Also, the MS Word wasn't behaving as I'm used to because the mouse would select more text than I wanted, and I had to make sure my marks and comments were accurate.

I had reached the finish line and was about to upload the document to a cloud drive, plus send it as an attachment to someone, when a fire alarm went off. I looked at the person next to me to see if we should do anything, and he didn't move. So I didn't either. Then people started telling us to leave right away because we were having a fire drill. I had to leave my windows open and hoped that the remaining time wouldn't elapse, because my files would be wiped; the alarm had gone off before I had a chance to send them or store them anywhere. So I went outside and waited and hoped that all the work I put into the document wouldn't be for naught.

When they gave us permission to enter the library again, I ran upstairs to the computer and finished the saving-sending process. I had some minutes left, and I made them matter. I was worried that someone would use my computer or I'd be locked out.

Then it struck me that I'd been taking my solitary pursuits for granted. I had my nice desktop, have a basic Chromebook (thus can't do anything with Word), but I still have something. Other people don't have such luxuries; they have to use computers in public places, wait for permission, ask for help, listen to people talking or loud noises while they do what they want. They have to put up with fire alarms or other distractions which break up their day. They can't decide to work in silence in their own space; they have to share it. I have had the choice of working in a workplace, in a coworking space, in a garden, on a balcony, in my home...wherever I want pretty much, unless I need the powerful desktop computer (which is still dead at this moment and must be replaced with another expensive computer).

So I'd like to proclaim that while I am not a fan of solitary work, which I've been doing for years, at least I have the luxury of being alone. I'm not at the mercy of a public institution, though I'm very glad we have that option. Libraries are great places to get things done, so I thank our culture for including them in its priorities.