Let’s Get One Thing Straight

Today I went to a workshop for work, and at the beginning we received an agenda that gave a run down of the day – the morning sessions lasted until noon with one break, and then after an hour for lunch, the afternoon’s sessions would last til 5:00. By the last morning session, I found it really hard to focus. I was sleepy, hungry, distracted by the woman Facebooking in front of me, and tuning out all the really dry material. I began counting down the minutes until lunch. And boy, did those minutes pass slowly. By 11:58, I was ready to bolt for lunch, but the presentation went over. At the end of it, at 12:17, they asked for any questions from the audience, and I thought “Please, no questions, no questions, no questions…” I just wanted some caffeine and lunch. And I had to figure out somewhere to pump and fit that in some where in the lunch break, without being rude or strangely abrupt to whoever I would end up sitting and networking with. So I was praying nobody asked questions that required us all to sit there politely and behave.

Once lunch ended, the afternoon sessions began, and the first presentation went by pretty fast, so I was surprised that break time was upon us so soon again after lunch. But then they just dove right into the next topic and presentation with no mention of the scheduled afternoon break. I thought I must’ve been mistaken about the timing of the afternoon break, so I checked the agenda again, and looked at my phone, and sure enough, we were supposed to have had a break 20 minutes ago. I glanced around, no one else seemed antsy, so I figured, Sweet! We’ll get out of here 30 minutes early! I can get home earlier, spend at least 10 minutes with baby before she taps out, and not have to pump in the resort’s bathroom stall again.

But that second afternoon session was extremely boring, and just kept getting more and more off-track with anecdotes and, since they’d taken away the coffee after lunch, I found it harder and harder to stay awake, focus, and listen to anything with any interest. I looked at my email, popped onto IM, did some web surfing, and still, only 10 more minutes had passed. That session had slowed to a crawl. I must not have been the only one totally distracted and disinterested because the next thing I hear is “You guys look zonked. We were supposed to have a break earlier, but let’s take it now and regroup. So, how about we take a break, regroup in 30, and then we’ll go til 5:30, ok?”

No.

No, no, no, no, no. Ever since I read that agenda this morning and saw that we’d be wrapping up no later than 5:00, I had been anxiously awaiting 5:00. So, no. I am NOT staying til 5:30. I am tired, the coffee surreptitiously disappeared right after lunch, there’s no more caffeine around here, and staying til 5:00 is going to take every ounce of patience and focus that I brought for the day. Or, if you would rather hear the unfiltered response from my brain, “Do you really expect us to sit here an extra half hour today? Let’s just plow on through and get out of here early as planned. That agenda? It’s more like a contract, and you will NOT fuck with my expectation of getting out of here at 5:00. My boobs are going to explode, I’m sleepy as shit and there’s no Diet Coke, no coffee, and my phone can only entertain me so much longer before I run out of here screaming, so no. No, no, no, no, no. NO!”

What is this ‘window’?

I used to spend my lunch hour going for walks. I no longer am afforded that luxury because, unless I want to stay 10 hours a day (and I don’t!), I gotta use all my break time for pumping. But today I had to run across campus for something, and it is a spectacularly beautiful day. It may be February elsewhere, but right now it’s a blissful 75 degrees and sunny here. That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though. I would’ve had to forge across campus even if it were cloudy and a brisk 65. In my errand, I walked past the office building across the street and what I saw stopped me dead in my tracks.

They have windows.

That OPEN.

It is absolutely criminal that any of us should have to be inside on a day like today anyway. Especially given that our faces will be melting under the death star very soon. But an office with windows that OPEN?! I have never even conceived of such an enviable fringe benefit before that moment. I mean, anyone can have a window in their office cube. I have even had a window in my office before. Sure, it looked out on a dingy poorly-lit hallway, but still. But a window that functions?

Mind. blown. Then I thought, um, hello? This is not novel. The only thing that made this moment noteworthy whatsoever is that I’m unfortunate enough to work in an environment controlled entirely by someone else. Redoubling my efforts to work on my own business plan.

As If I Needed Another Reason to Work for Myself

There is an issue at work. A bathroom issue. The first time I encountered it, I decided to just hold my breath and deal with it because I really, really had to pee. I thought, Yikes! Someone isn’t feeling well today.

Unfortunately, time has proven it’s not just a “today” thing. It’s become a recurring issue.

To say it’s foul is not nearly strong enough. In fact, it’s as if an aged gorilla from the zoo ate some bad cabbage. When I really have to pee, I think, “Well, I could just rush & hold my breath…But then if anyone comes in, they’re going to think I’m the culprit here. And I AM NOT.”

So I’ve resorted to using the bathroom on another floor.

 

Unfiltered Thoughts: Websites that Should Exist

Sites that follow up on flash-in-the-pan news stories that caught my our collective attention but about which I have heard nothing since. Remember the kid from UCLA who joined the Libyan revolution? Well what the hell happened to him? Did his parents beat him senseless? Is he back to life “as usual” in LA as a student?

A website where you can post the subtext behind all-too-polite resignation letters. Like the chick here who was demoted a couple months ago who resigned abruptly with: “I just wanted to send a note to you that I wish each and every one of you Much Success and Happiness  personally and professionally and certainly Much Success  to the organization overall, best wishes!” C’mon. Really?

Caveat: These might already exist. I just don’t have time / energy to investigate whether they do.

All This Thinking is Counter-Productive

Yesterday’s work day was simultaneously one of the best and worst work days ever. Our network was completely down (and remains largely down today), giving me a very limited subset of tasks I could work on. Simple tasks that I blew through in just a few minutes. So I basically goofed off on the web all day.

I feel guilty about that in the sense that I know I’m not getting paid to just goof off. But I also feel guilty about it in some other, more profound way. That I don’t give a sh*t that that’s how I spent my day.

After months of un- and under-employment in 2010 and 2011, I finally landed this job. And I was, and continue to be, grateful for that. Even more grateful for the fact that I was more than 6 months pregnant when I started here. And that my workplace is so accommodating and understanding of the new rhythm of my life. Like needing some time to adjust to the schedule of getting to work with pants on. I have a lot to be thankful for: I have an amazing boss. I make a decent living. I have benefits. But I don’t love my job. I don’t love the line of work I’m in. It just doesn’t excite me or inspire me. If it’s too much to ask to do work that you’re really designed to do, that you are enthusiastic about, that provides the work environment and work style you desire, and at which you are driven to excel, then honestly? I’d rather just be home with my baby.

Having nothing to do but idle time to pass away in my cubicle yesterday was not a good thing because it sent me down a path of re-examining my career and life path yet again. I sat there in my cubicle thinking. And while thinking may be dangerous, it’s all I could do. Well, I mean, besides watch youtube videos of dogs.  Or babies. Or dogs and babies.

The result of all that thinking was a deafening cry inside my head: I want to be productive. I want to work hard. But I want to work for myself. If nothing else, if I worked for myself, woke up one morning, and the network was completely down? I wouldn’t sit there and stare at a blank screen all day like an automaton. I’d go out and live life. Read, nap, go for a hike, take a scenic drive. The possibilities are endless. Bonus: a little break would have reinvigorated me for when it was time to work again.

Coincidentally, I happened to read a blog post last night by someone who talked about losing his job suddenly and needing new work ASAP, who wrote “All I need is to be working with smart passionate people, flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere. A cubicle is my death. I’ll take it if it’s all I can find, but I’d prefer to work from home and fly anywhere for meetings/face to face time.” Well said, my friend. I work in a cubicle, though that, in and of itself is not the problem. The last museum I worked for, I worked in a cubicle and worked with some of the most talented, funny, amazing coworkers friends ever. If we could have run away to found our own creative firm offering our services as a web designer, writer, graphics/visual artist, and editor, I totally would have. Except that we would have needed insta-clients, and lots of them, because all of us have piles of bills to pay.

Some of it has to do with the stupidity of playing working by the rules. Whether it’s that I have to show up & sit here in a cube for 8 hours even though none of us can get to a single work file, or that I can’t install Flash because I don’t have Admin user privileges even though I produce Flash videos for my job, or that I can’t listen to music on my computer even though I work at a music museum, whatever the workplace is, it has inane, inexplicably dumb rules. I want to live life by my own terms and work by my own rules. Work when I’m ready to work, rather than staring at a blank screen trying to get motivated because I haven’t yet had my coffee and had to be at work at 8:30 even though I’ve been up with a baby since 3:30. Or that I didn’t get to bed with the baby til 3:30. Cuz everyone knows, if you work from 11-7, your quality of work is just total sh*t compared to the quality of work you produce on no sleep between 8:30-4:30! Write about topics that I’m interested in, rather than digesting & regurgitating the most boring information to a general audience. And produce deliverables that match my expectations of high quality rather than pass off “meh, it’s ok, but at least it’s on time” stuff because of someone else’s constraints.

That could be the biggest thing. There’s nothing more frustrating at work than having to compromise, or even abandon your vision. That’s been one of my frustrations with everywhere that I have worked since grad school: not being in control over the quality of the work products I deliver. In grad school, I was in total control over the quality of my research sources, the level of my analysis, and the craftsmanship of my writing. But working for someone else is a whole different story. It’s awful to have a product “represent” you that you don’t feel is the type or quality of work you do best. Because I have worked only for nonprofits, I’m always on a shoestring budget, but I don’t always know the external constraints. Like when your boss tells you you’ve got a $25,000 budget for an exhibit, and you spend $4,000 only to be hauled into her office and told that you’ve “gone over budget.” How? Because she was working on the assumption that $22,000 of that “budget” was for your own salary. (And you were working on the assumption that budget = money one can spend. Because that’s what the word means). Or how you get “voluntold” at work to produce a professional instructional video in 3 months but you get told by the videographers that they can’t work you into their schedule in that time frame, so the best they can do is hand off some B-roll footage and let you work your own magic. When you’re in control of your own product, you know what’s within your abilities and limits and don’t overextend that by taking on projects and agreeing to ideas that compromise your vision. And you’re clear on the rules of engagement.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I finally deserve to find work that works for me. Until this job, I spent my work life trying to make a career out of museum work, and it’s just not there to be made. Museum work is tireless, thankless, and undervalued. It demands a lot of your time, your efforts, your patience, and your resources, but does not deliver equivalent opportunities for personal and professional growth, upward mobility, and, most importantly, work-life balance. Sure, you can rise through the ranks. Either incrementally and over a long period of time, working your way up in a large institution where you must summon the patience to spend years doing menial work that inexplicably demands a Master’s degree waiting for a vacancy for which you have been groomed over time to materialize. Or you may rise through the ranks at a tiny institution well before you are equipped with the skils, abilities, leadership, and network to tackle the frequently insurmountable problems of a small and increasingly irrelevant institution. I gave both a shot, and neither path worked out for me.

Then, when I was laid off by the last museum, I spent my time scrambling, trying to find any job that fit my existing skill set, hoping things would work out for the best. And the side effects aren’t shabby: a steady job that uses the skills that I learned used in museums – research, writing, editing, teaching, and a little design  – a decent paycheck with benefits, and the best boss I’ve had since 2006.

But I want more. I don’t want to try to squeeze myself into a new career that doesn’t fit me exactly right. All that thinking time yesterday reaffirmed that I’ve got to figure out how to make my next work move be to work for myself.

Productivity at Work

Today, all of us at work are offline because our login/password files have been hacked. So until they assess the damage & repair whatever it is that needs to be repaired, we are offline. Which means the only things I have access to are my desktop and the interwebz.

If it weren’t for the interwebz, I would have stabbed my eyes out by now. Back to streaming Netflix on my phone, I guess. Nah, that would be wrong. I’ll play Angry Birds instead.

This is going to be a loooong day. Not a bad day, just a loooong one.

Chocolate Monster

Thanks to all the holiday goodies, I find myself back at work, sitting in my cube jonesing for my next fix. It’s 2:00. Where the bleep is my sugar?! How will I get through this day?! This is bad.

 

 

The Math’s the Same

Today is payday, but this week, my paycheck was slashed in half. Money’s been lean since my maternity leave, which, other than the 3 weeks paid at 60% by short-term disability, was unpaid. And then when I came back to work, I was only part-time for 2 weeks, so I was only making half of my salary. My previous paycheck was my first full paycheck, but as the first full paycheck in months, it only began to make a dent in our financial deficit. What with daycare, we’ve been on a tight budget. So we’ve really been looking forward to getting more of a foothold with a steady full paycheck from me.

Unfortunately, my employer’s incompetent HR didn’t cooperate with that plan. You see, we elected a flexible spending account for daycare – a pre-tax deduction. And when we filled out the form, which says “Enter your ANNUAL CALENDAR-YEAR contribution, not a per-pay-period amount,” we did just that. We multiplied the weekly daycare fees times 52 weeks a year, which came out to way more than the maximum you could withhold, so we elected the maximum – just under $5000. There are 26 paychecks in a year, so that works out to about $192 withheld from every paycheck. Except my HR department seems to have a different understanding. They take whatever you fill in as your annual amount, and divide it by the number of pay periods left in the year at the time you enroll. So, in my case, $5000 divided by 9, or more than $550 to be withheld from every paycheck.

Uh, WHAT?! I had even been contacted by HR when I submitted my form, and they had explained that they calculate whatever amount you elect and divide by the number of remaining paychecks, regardless of your intention for that $5000 to be spread out over the calendar year, as their own language implies. So they “fixed” it, and my last paycheck had only $192 withheld. But today’s paycheck? There’s $550 withheld. And though I lost my shit brought this to their attention, they were unable to correct it, and so they’re adjusting the amount withheld from the remaining 8 paychecks of 2011 to balance out the extra they took out of this single paycheck. Fine, except that doesn’t help me pay my bills for the next 2 weeks. Like daycare, for instance, which is now going to constitute half of my pay for the next 2 weeks. And since I’m the only full-time employee in my household, the next 2 weeks are going to be ramen filled.

Then I thought, oh! I can at least recoup alot of what’s missing from my paycheck by submitting my daycare receipts for reimbursement, something I haven’t done yet. A good plan, but when I logged on to my daycare FSA, it only shows the initial $192 contribution, not the extra $550 they also withheld this time.

I would say that I would work even less today than I normally would on a Friday to express my outrage that half of my net pay is gone because of someone else’s incomptence. But then again, 50% times zero is still zero.