Archive for August, 2014

The difficulty of the easy question ‘How’s work?’

So here’s a little fact of twenty-something life I never saw coming: Just how hard it would be to answer basic questions like “How are you? How’s work?” Especially the “How’s work?” part.

I never guessed the question would give me such pause. But it does. It practically turns me into a nervous teen about to ask my crush to turnabout.

“How’s work?”

Well, I think to myself, I spend a lot of my time at work, so I should be able to answer that question.

I know I could easily launch into a play-by-play of which stories I’ve been writing that day or week; who’s throwing me off by not returning my calls; whether the printer’s working or making me want to go “Office Space” on it; and what silly side conversations about 90s jeans styles, crazy suburban people or Seinfeld episodes my co-workers and I have been having lately.

But when the question is asked casually, as it almost always is, I know that level of detail is not the right answer.

So how’s work, on a more macro level, is the real question. And that’s why I struggle with the answer. It’s difficult to take the entirety of the job you’re doing for a living, boil it down into a few words, and answer with anything other than a cliché like “Busy, but good.”

Work blends together. Days speed into weeks and suddenly a few months are gone. What seems like just minutes later, you’ve been at your job for nearly four years. College, and all the other phases of life/school up to this point, weren’t really like that. Time moved pretty slowly, especially if a passing period, a weekend, the reading day before finals or a semester break was approaching.

But the career-world phase of our twenties can either be described by “time flies when you’re having fun,” or “don’t blink, you’ll miss it!” And the speed at which time seemingly passes makes it all that much trickier to come up with a suitable answer to the “how’s work?” question.

Short of settling for a cliché reply, building in a little extra time for reflection seems the only way to find a good answer. If I asked myself, once a week or so, “how’s work,” and thought about my tasks of the past few days – whether I’ve been calm or stressed, whether I’ve felt tired or enlivened, whether I’ve procrastinated or worked quickly and efficiently – maybe I’d be better prepared for when the question comes from someone else.

With people we see often, our parents, siblings, boyfriend/girlfriend/partners, close friends, it’s not so challenging to answer appropriately when they ask about work. They know the major players, the characters and recurring assignments, the joys and annoyances of our jobs. And they want to know the zoomed-in detail.

On the micro level, we all know how work has been on a given day, and it especially sticks in our minds if it’s been the kind of day that leaves us kinda wanting a beer. But the macro level? That’s what takes some extra reflection.

So ask yourself, “How’s work?” and give yourself some time to sort out a real answer. You’ll have the most creative response in the room.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, J is for Jargon

Anything good left in the reefer?
What’s the slug?
Not to sound like a mom, but you really need to sandblast that wig!
Has he applied for his BOP yet?
And what kind of SOT are we using today?
I hope today’s muster isn’t such a gagglefuck … but I have a feeling we’re all gonna get fucked by the green weenie.
Whatever. Kill bodies.
Just another day in the life … ABC!

If you’re an audio production sales professional who’s spent some time in the Navy, worked as a journalist and managed an insurance office, you might, might, have been able to follow all those references.

If not, well, good luck sorting out their meanings, because to anyone not in these fields, they’re totally incomprehensible.

Who would guess reefer means fridge? Or that BOP stands for business-owners policy and “kill bodies” is just a more, uh, colorful way to say “goodbye” or “see ya later”?

That’s right, no one. No one would be able to intuitively sort out the meanings of these and other jargon phrases without some insider info. And that’s the problem.

Jargon can be great when it’s something silly, like saying “slug” when you actually mean “file name of a story.” And jargon can be great when it helps you vent some frustration in a possibly undercover, profanity-infused way, like complaining that you got screwed over by your boss, aka “fucked by the green weenie.”

But jargon also can be frustrating when you’re trying to talk to someone in, say, the field of education, who speaks in nothing but catch-phrases. The teacher might have said something interesting, but it usually comes across as the same ol’ same ol’ “It’s all about the kids.” “I just want to do what’s best for the kids.”

For those of us in our twenties lucky enough to be in the career world, we’ve surely spent a few years speaking in jargon by now, whether we noticed it or not.

So I offer a word of caution: Never lose the real meaning of the jargon terms you’ve come to know and love (or despise). And don’t forget to let us outsiders in on the fun ones! So I leave you with some translations of the opening phrases that cut out the jargon and speak real English.

Anything good left in the fridge?
What’s the file name of that story?
Not to sound like a mom, but you really need to get a haircut!
Has he applied for his business-owners’ policy yet?
And what kind of sounds on tape are we using today?
I hope today’s meeting isn’t such a disorganized mess of people just standing around, but I have a feeling we’re all going to get screwed by the big boss.
Whatever. Bye.
Just another day in the life … always be closing!

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A mental challenge: Stop limiting yourself!

I suck at math, I’m not a very good cook and I don’t have strong arms.

I’m not trying to be negative, just honest. These are a few of my many flaws.

So here’s little flawed me, sitting at work one day. I was trying to figure out if $221,102,000 is indeed a 2.7 percent increase from $215,282,213, as a source told me. I started wishing I didn’t suck at math, and then I saw my self-described flaws in a different way. I saw them for what they really are — limits, of the self-imposed kind.

We all limit ourselves with our ways of thinking, and we probably don’t even realize it.

It’s not like “I suck at math” is an overly negative statement that draws attention to itself. In fact, in my line of work, it’s completely acceptable and possibly even a badge of honor to have struggled through a few high school math classes and then called it quits on fractions and equations.

And it’s not like “I’m not a very good cook” or “I don’t have strong arms” are particularly noteworthy statements, either. Maybe I say these things to warn others away from the cookies I brought to the holiday luncheon or to make myself feel better when old women at the gym are lifting more than I am. Or maybe all I mean is cooking, push-ups and math problems are frustrating and difficult for me.

But it’s these seemingly innocuous comments that teach us to expect very little of ourselves in certain aspects of life.

Sometimes, instead of figuring out a tricky percentage problem, I stick with raw numbers and leave the percents out altogether. If I cook honey mustard chicken without burning all the honey mustard mixture to the bottom of the pan, I’m proud of myself. And I avoid the bench press at the gym. Hey, I can curl 10-pounders 12 times for two sets, and that’s good enough for me.

But what if I didn’t think these thoughts, these “I suck at … I’m not a very good … I don’t have …” kind of thoughts.
Maybe I’d Google how to do that percentage problem and be able to include the figures in my story. Maybe I’d stop letting impatience get the best of my cooking and turn down the heat on the oven, saving my sauces from burning to a crisp. Maybe I’d tackle the bench press and build up toward my high school one-rep max of 90 pounds — or more! Maybe I’d remove my limits, just by thinking differently.

It’s not always that easy, and as someone who thinks too much, I certainly know how circular the mental process can be. One second, you’re telling yourself to stop self-defining as someone who sucks at math, and the next, you’re re-telling the story of how you failed — yes FAILED — your first two tests in freshman algebra and nearly got kicked down into the remedial level … just to suffer through tutoring and work your ass off for a B-minus.

But maybe that tutoring and the eventual B-minus can be an example of the way out of this mental mistake of limiting our potential. Because as sure as I am that we all limit ourselves by our thoughts, I’m also sure we all have a success story somewhere in our past, a story we can draw on when we need motivation and inspiration to give it our all and triumph over adversity.

So let’s all think about those stories, instead, and improve our potential instead of limiting it. The world can thank us later …

I once covered an all-school reading program at a high school that was tackling the book “Running the Edge.” I remember the authors, seemingly speaking in complete jargon, saying students should learn to “ignore the governor and be a free chicken.”

I’m going to leave the “free chicken” thing alone here, but explain the “ignore the governor” aspect. It’s not asking us to disregard the authority of our state leaders, but referencing the automobile part called the “governor,” a part that limits how fast a given vehicle can go. The highest number on your speedometer might be 120, but if the governor is set to 90 mph, you’ll never make it there.

When we tell ourselves we’re bad at certain activities, we lack certain skills or we’re not strong in certain areas, WE are our own governors. It’s time to ignore that limiting aspect of our minds and see what we can do without the assumption we’ll be bad at it.

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Another open letter to … the vanity plate drivers of Chicagoland

Dear WHY DO 55,

Cops, speeding tickets, safety, gas mileage, inspiring road rage in anyone who wants to go faster – you know, there’s plenty of reasons!

Dear CA DRMER,

What, you got some Beach Boys blasting in there? This is Chicago. Keep dreaming.

Dear NOT HIPP,

But how couldn’t you be “HIPP”? You drive a mustard-yellow Volkswagon bus. That’s totally hip. And hippie.

Dear IM PAT 1,

Do you really need to remind yourself of that every time you get in the car? Now everyone else knows, too.

Dear XL DOGS 2,

Please, please, please don’t let them jump on me. Or on IM PAT 1.

Dear WZNT ME 8,

It wasn’t Shaggy, either. It was nobody.

Dear NO SCAMS,

Somehow, the overtness of your license plate makes me think you might be a scammer.

HVNG FUN,

Well I’m living the dream! So top that.

Dear FT FETSH,

Open car door, insert foot. Also, TMI.

Dear KULAID 2,

Cool. Just don’t drink it and drive.

Dear FIRST D8,

Aww, did you make out in your car at the end? How adorably high school!

Dear LIFES AN,

Ooh, a fill-in-the-blank license plate! But only words starting with vowels can fit. Life’s an … adventure, live it up! Life’s an … opportunity, not an obligation (got that one from a book of motivational quotes from my high school basketball coach.) Life’s an … amazing journey. Enough said.

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