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.
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
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)
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!
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.
Being an outsider makes it a lot easier to write, creating a way to process what's going on and what we see, especially if we're not getting what we want from the world. I reckon visual artists do this as well; they experience life and shape it into colors and forms, thus they've found their space to create a place just for them, and for others to experience what they have.
Sharing is important when we can't in "real life." We are on the edge, on the outside looking in, and we can't stay silent; we have to find a way to bridge what we're taking in and what we want to express. For long stretches of time, I felt like an outsider, even though I didn't want to be. And when I wasn't officially in that position, I'd formed such a habit of observation and creating an alternative commentary and streams of thought in my mind that I'd have to take the time to write it out, or create some other reality where I could be someone else who's fully participating in a life that is very different from mine.
Recently I've been working in non-introverted, enjoyable situations, that I've felt more like a participant to the point that I haven't had the time or psych to observe and feel the need to express myself on that alternative path. The main issue is living life instead of just existing and getting through the days. Of course, if we're alive, we're living life. But a lot of people are just working or getting stuff done, and they don't feel connected or alive until they're doing something they enjoy. Otherwise, they're being disciplined to get through what they have to, then finding a way to release themselves from the chores. But doing something that's enjoyable, plus working and socializing with people we should be with, makes the disciplined striving less necessary. The struggle is within a pleasant, desirable orbit instead of a construct of what should be.
I definitely believe in positive thinking, though not the kind where people claim that if you think it, what you want will happen. Positive thinking is being positive in spite of a challenging situation. You might want something, and being positive about your desires might lead you down some interesting and fruitful paths, but you might fail. So the positivity comes despite the failure. It's there before and after. It's finding alternatives when the main choice isn't possible. But when it does happens, sparks fly, you're in the zone, you're on your way. And that's when the sense of belonging begins, and the need to ace observation and successfully channel it is decreased.
Maybe that's why creative people often perceive a struggle, even when things might be improving in their external world. The struggle creates the friction that leads to a need to soothe it, but on the person's terms, not based on what the world might offer.
I've written about the need to create, to control something when life is out of control (not in a dysfunctional way but when decisions are in other people's hands and you have to produce and perform for them), but I need to follow my own advice. I've become a habitual observer, walking down the street seeing people and scenarios that make interesting stories in my head, but I don't put them down anywhere, which makes my head fill up and cause a bottleneck that has to be smoothed out.
Writing isn't the only answer; I can also express via audio and video, but writing is the fastest way and only requires simple tools and a simple process: typing on a computer or writing on a piece of paper with a pen. Also, I often want to process my observations via words, and I can do it via fiction or via straight reporting, though doing it honestly via Twitter or here would get me in trouble. If I were rich and didn't need anyone's approval, I would really post what I think of what I see, but I don't have that luxury (and not many people do).
"Ensure" simply means to make sure of something. So you ensure that you have your bus pass. You ensure that all the doors are locked. You ensure that you've done all the necessary paperwork. Basically, when you're thinking "I want to make sure," use "ensure."
Here's a visual: the name of the drink Ensure implies that you want to make sure, i.e., ensure, that you get all the nutrients you need.
After seeing various examples online, I assumed it's standard practice to not capitalize it, until I saw a discussion on Quora, with an answer by a highly educated science person: "The International Astronomical Union rules in this context, and they say that the names of each planet, each planetary satellite, each asteroid, each comet, each star, each stellar/planetary system, and each galaxy is a proper name and, therefore, a proper noun to be capitalized." Then he says that not capitalizing it is fiction-oriented. But the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aka MIT, one of the most prestigious science and technical institutions on the planet, instructs people to not capitalize it. And the MLA style guide (by the well-known Modern Language Association) makes the same conclusion.
So I'm assuming it should not be capitalized, thus I corrected what the author wrote. Now that I'm writing about it, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but when I saw it, it made me think about it for the first time, since I don't usually have to deal with the issue. I even discussed it with a professional writer, who didn't really know the answer either, which made me even more curious and concerned about doing the right thing.
In every chapter, he lectured about grammar, and seemed very happy to be sharing his knowledge. He had a French accent, of course, and was always upbeat.
I wish the publisher would let the French-challenged, such as moi, continue to access the site, so that we can continue to be entertained and tutored by Mr Friendly French Guy, who will become just a memory eventually :( I will miss him. Goodbye, Friendly French Guy :(
There are not many personal blogs out there anymore because people are posting their lives on social media, and blogs have become more informational than a form of journaling, which makes my pursuit seem anachronistic. Social media is fine, but it's not as deep as journal-type blogs were, and I miss that aspect of the internet. Online expression is more superficial and utilitarian now, and greed has taken over certain segments of the internet to the point where it's hard to find more authentic voices.
I do more practical posts at my podcast-related blog and post here, of course, but what I like about the fake blog is that I can do something personal in someone else's voice, and it's very satisfying and fun. I also have a way to channel my thoughts in an alternative world, which is very different from my real life. It's a way to offset rut-related feelings by imagining "What if..." to create a different path to explore.
If I were a gifted fiction writer and disciplined and driven about it, I'd try to write a book from my bloggy sketches, but right now, I just enjoy blogging. I don't know if other people feel the same way as I do, but I think the online writing world is not as interesting because long forms of expression exist in a different way, and have been replaced by short bursts of self-celebration. I sort of wish we could go back to the "good 'ol days" of the internet before the mercenaries took over, and I wonder if written creativity will continue to thrive for those who still want to bypass the professional gatekeepers.
I have met people who fancied themselves as business people (meaning they're pretty much failing at it or are inept or are too cheap to pay anyone) who wanted me to produce content for free, telling me I'd get "exposure." For instance, one person who was building their digital identity after their broadcasting one was fizzling told me about a website they were either creating or had already created (they were vague), and they wanted people to write for their blog. I asked them how much they're paying the writers, and they said "oh nothing, you can get exposure." Obviously, the person hadn't done their research or assumed I was new to the digital world because I had already been blogging for years, and had even gotten paid for doing blog posts for other people or had gotten paid for editing them. By the time the has-been mediaite had met me, I had already experienced professional writing, and at that point was picky about who I'd write for, for free.
Another time, a person who was working for a company asked me to not only write something, but go out into the community, interview people, record the interviews, edit and make them sound pretty, post them somewhere, and they would be broadcast, again vaguely somewhere at some time. I asked how much they were paying for such a project that sounded like it would be both time-consuming and energy-expending, and they said that I would have to find the advertisers, and besides, I would get "exposure."
In both those instances, the people asked me; I didn't approach them, so I assumed since they asked me, they would have something to offer more that just "exposure." They didn't even bother to offer a gift card or another kind of perk. While the has-been was an individual, the other person worked for a business that had been set up by someone else, and even they didn't have the money to pay for a service that they requested.
I have had exposure for years, which I built up. Some of it has been through work, so I happened to get paid for it. Other exposure has not been for work, but has led to paid work. That's what exposure does: it gets your name out there so that people can do an online search and find out what you're able to do. But after a while, it's not as necessary, unless you have a goal in mind.
For instance, once I started teaching others about podcasting (and after I'd gotten exposure for my own podcast), I wanted to write about it. So I contacted a publicity pro whose excellent website, The Publicity Hound, did not have such information. It took a while, but I was able to write a two-part article about it. More recently, I wrote another how-to podcasting article after contacting the International Association of Business Communicators, whose website didn't have anything about it either. I didn't get paid to write those, but the difference was that I contacted them and knew they were a chance to get exposure. It was my goal, and I took action to achieve it.
But I also wrote a couple articles for free after someone asked me. In that case, I had been wanting to write about my experience doing technical editing, since I'd been toiling at that alone in obscurity, and I wanted to communicate with the larger world about it (since I'm not a solitary-loving introvert). I was at a meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, and the newsletter editor, Robert Delwood, was talking to me about my experience. Then he asked me to write articles for the newsletter, and since no one gets paid to write for it and it's an organization (not a business), I didn't make such an assumption. And he didn't have to say "you'll get exposure" either. It was just a request for a contribution. What resulted was a description of my struggle, and another about the importance of grammar.
Ok, so it might seem like I'm self-promoting, which I sort of am, but I'm also making a point: if people want something substantial done and especially can afford it, they should pay. They shouldn't make the "exposure" argument unless someone suggests it, e.g., if someone says to them, "I have no online presence. Can I write something for you? I need the exposure." But for a business person to try convince someone to give them free content via the "exposure" argument is not good business.
My problem is that I want to understand everything I read or see, and I can't. For instance, I started studying Swedish after I saw shows and movies and listened to lots of happy, shallow Swedish dance music that was created for the world stage. I wanted to find out more about the artists and actors, so I searched online for information. The best was in Swedish, so I attempted to study it, and barely succeeded. I cannot converse and barely understand anyone. It's frustrating. Then I tried reading Swedish sites, learned tips, etc., but I barely made any progress.
I also love French and really just want to read anything in it and try to understand some shows, such as Maigret. I'm such a fan of Bruno Crémer that I ordered his memoir, Un Certain Jeune Homme, from the UK, and when I got it, I could barely understand it. So I put it to the side and after I took an online French course and learned about the imparfait tense, I could understand it better. But what about the news in French, and websites, and videos, and more? I still have trouble.
And then there's Spanish. I studied that a while ago and have been teaching mostly Spanish speakers English for several years, and while I don't need the language to teach, I'd like to understand what they're saying to each other. And I teach in an area where there are many Spanish-speaking stores, so I could easily practice it there. I also see Spanish speakers all around Chicago and would like to get involved. But that's a lot to learn to be able to converse.
Then there's Japanese, which is probably my "best" language, though it is very difficult to read and I still don't understand everything I see on TV, so I try to practice reading and listening often, though don't know enough to ace it.
And there's German and Portuguese and Italian, all which I've studied and was intense about, but nothing enough to put me in the "capable" category.
So I've been overwhelmed by opportunities and interest to learn those languages but am not brilliant enough, nor do I have a photogenic memory to remember all the vocabulary and grammar and meaning of it all. My mind is struggling between desire to do it all and frustration because I'm not a super-language-human. I've met some people who know a few languages, and obviously I'm envious that they have that ability. What's odd is that people think I'm good at language, but I think it's because they haven't attempted to learn anything, other than what was required in school.
Then an ESL student told the class about a video she saw about learning languages (pasted below).
Chris Lonsdale says people can learn any language in six months. He said he learned Mandarin that way, and at first I was skeptical, but I saw a video of him giving advice to Chinese people about learning a language, and he sounds fluent to me! He even has slides in Chinese!
He seems so confident and effectively communicative. Even though I have to watch his video again to really learn the concepts (though I briefly wrote some down), one thing I realized is that I have to think about *why* I want to learn those languages, and zero in on that aspect, because I will never be totally fluent and capable in any language, other than English. He says that it's important to make language learning relevant, and since I'm not planning on living abroad again, I don't need those languages for survival, so that's not my motivation. In order to make a language relevant to me and to thus have motivation, I need to make it relate to my personal goals.
I hadn't thought about my language goals. I just wanted to somehow absorb it and proceed like a blob and have a kind of download into my brain. That is not possible, unless I'm a Borg or some character in a sci-fi movie. I can't approach language learning like a blob and assume I'll learn through osmosis or mere exposure. I need to figure out why I'm doing it.
Right now, here are some vague goals, which need to be refined and pursued more intensely:
Swedish: I want to read about the actors and singers in Swedish. And I want to go to Sweden, though they speak English and there's not a lot of pressure to be perfect. Spanish: I want to talk with people in Chicago. French: I want to be able to read the book I bought. And I want to go to France, where I'll have to be able to use it. Portuguese: I want to be able to read about Brazil. I've been there before and did okay, but I've forgotten it all.
Japanese and German are more general, because I want to be able to know them well enough to use them in those countries. So if I narrow down my goal, I want to learn them well enough to be able to talk with people and function on a trip there.
Maybe I'll feel more motivated as I define my goals more. I would much rather be super-smart and dive right in, understanding everything to be able to fully function in all kinds of languages, but that's impossible.
A while ago, I worked for someone who was very smart and highly educated, but because English was not their first language, they had some issues with their writing. But they did the right thing: they made sure their writing was checked before being sent out, which I'm guessing helped them to keep their high-level job for several years, make good money, and even get a promotion. It probably also helped their reputation because other people could see that not only did they have the degrees, but they could professionally express themself (not a word, but I don't want to be specific about gender or other info) in a way that matched their prominent job.
If people have the money, they should hire people to fix their writing, even simple emails, even if it's in a ghost-writing capacity. And if people are working in education, they should definitely be able to write. It is ridiculous that students are told to attain skills, but the supervisors of those institutions cannot create coherent sentences. And it's especially appalling when administrators are hired who don't have the sense or capacity to communicate correctly.
In some institutions, high-level employees may be super-strong in science and engineering but weak in the written word. They bring in millions of dollars and lead development of innovative products. Their weak writing shouldn't bar them from such opportunities, but they should make sure they get help.
And I'm not talking about typos. Sometimes we spell something wrong or add an extra comma where there shouldn't be one. Those are minor, human mistakes. What I'm talking about is obvious literary negligence that belies a person's high rank, and the person doesn't care enough to recognize the deficiency or is too cheap or arrogant to get someone to help.