Saturday, February 9, 2013

In Which I Am Not Yet Highly Effective, But Getting There

I used to have a genuinely horrible job selling wine over the telephone.  Truth be told, I've had a lot of horrible jobs, but that one really took the cake.

The company wasn't the problem, the manager was.  He was the worst sort of self-improvement hypocrite, spouting Napoleon Hill, Stephen Covey, and Tony Robbins in between racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic jokes.  He insulted and belittled those beneath him, and he berated us because our inability to sell $400 cases of untasted wine to strangers over the phone was obviously due to a lack of personal character and commitment.

The job paid $250 a week, on which I could barely live, and transitioned to straight commission after six weeks.  I sold two cases of wine in the two months I worked there, so I essentially gave them two weeks of labor for free.  My 'shift' ran from 1 to 10 each day, but I was expected to arrive at noon for the daily 'motivational lunch', where we all gathered around the conference table to eat our lunches (and have the morality of our dietary decisions critiqued by a chain smoking alcoholic carrying a good extra 80 pounds) and listen to self-help tapes, especially Napoleon Hill and Tony Robbins, and be lectured on 'fake it till you make it' and 'no is never an acceptable answer to any question'.  I would then sit through a prayer to begin the day, and spend nine hours on the phone, because if I took more than 15 minutes for dinner when I hadn't sold any wine, I was subjected to insults and ostentatious disappointment.

One of Pat's demands, as well, was that I spend five minutes a day reading some 'self-improvement' book.  He provided a list, topped of course by the Bible and various professional motivation texts.  He was livid when my first choice was the Tao te Ching, and my second was the Art of War.  That 'commie foreigner nonsense' couldn't possibly teach me anything worth knowing, and at that point he washed his hands of me, despairing of my ever being a 'decent woman'.  He found out from a co-worker that I read tarot, and from then on he 'jokingly' began asking every day if I'd like to begin the prayer with a ritual goat or baby sacrifice.  Why did I stay?  Because I couldn't find another office job and thought I was 'too good to go backwards to retail', and while I was at least making the $250 a week I wasn't getting evicted.

Near the top of the list he gave me was Stephen Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."  Without reading a word of it or knowing anything about it other than "Pat thinks it will make me a better person," I dismissed it entirely out of hand as another example of the self-improvement genre geared towards becoming a pushy sales asshole.  I wanted nothing to do with that Covey fuck, whose planners all carried a bunch of (to me) hollow affirmations about personal growth and goal-setting and time management.

Fast forward fifteen years, during which many people I did respect and appreciate have said to me, "I think you'd really get a lot out of that book." Finally, last year, I saw it in the Amazon Prime Kindle Lending Library and thought, "Is it really fair to let one bigoted asshole influence my reading decisions forever?"  So, I started reading it and have been working through it slowly, reading each chapter twice before moving to the next.

I won't say it's 'changed my life' or anything that dramatic, but today I had an epiphany:  what he was talking about doing was something that, in at least one area of my life, I'd been groping around trying to accomplish without fully understanding the transition or my reasoning.  At one point he talks about changing your focus from crisis response to relationship management, and I thought about the changes that we've been working on with the Guardians.  One of the big things that, after talking to the other Chiefs and our Director, we identified as a problem was that (primarily because of staffing shortages and shifts in paperwork management) many people often only interacted with a Guardian, especially with a Chief Guardian, when something was wrong.  Outside of crisis, they knew nothing about us, didn't have any reason to trust us except the reputation of the team.  The respect and trust accorded to me came from my possession of a green glowie and a laminate badge, not from a relationship and a history of personal integrity.  Other people's integrity and right action had earned me that trust, but we weren't working to strengthen those relationships the way we needed to be.  We can't effectively serve a community that doesn't know us as people.

We've been working to get back to that, getting the Chiefs out on patrol, getting our faces and our names in front of people so that they know *us* and not our titles, making sure that they feel comfortable talking to us on or off duty, about any issue even if it seems trivial.  Instead of spending a precious few off-duty hours hiding or relaxing in my camp, I've been taking more time off duty to peruse the merchants' wares, go to workshops, visit other camps, hang out with non-Safety friends, and generally make myself known when I'm *not* wearing green.  The effect is two-fold.  First, and most important:  I hope I never face a situation where people's lives depend on them trusting and listening to me, but with wildfires and increased animal sightings and weather oddities it's going to remain a possibility, and I'd rather depend on something more than "she has a piece of laminate that says 'trust me, I'm a Guardian' around her neck."  I want it to depend on "She has used her position with integrity, to act in the best interests of the membership, and I trust her as a *person* and as a Guardian, to know what is happening, have a plan, and do her best to help us stay safe."  Second:  I'm having more fun, making more friends, and ending each festival with less stress than I had when I started it, which tells me I'm doing something right.

'Doing something right' is the conversation I've been having with this book.  As I was avoiding it, I told myself that I'm pretty happy with my life (which I am, on the whole, even when annoyances and frustrations occur) and I didn't want to fight with some motivational asshat who'd dismiss my love-centered, joy-focused existence as meaningless and irresponsible.  It turns out that the parts of my life I'm happy with (the parts where I'm consistently aware of and acting in accord with my values) are the parts that already fit into the structure of the book, and the message I'm getting isn't "You're doing it wrong."  It's, "So far, so good.  Now, let's look at the next step."

So, what happened with Pat and the wine job?  Well, one day I'd had enough of the "Jerry's Kids" jokes and I told the Assistant Manager that they made me uncomfortable and I was pretty sure they were illegal.  He assured me that I could talk to Pat, explain how the jokes and the insults and the bigoted comments made me feel, and that Pat, who after all spouted words about positive thinking and affirmations and respect for the dignity of the individual for an hour each day, could be trusted to receive that information, think about it critically, and work with me to create a more positive atmosphere.  So, I did, because I was a naive young woman with very little professional experience.

What resulted was a screaming fight while I angrily packed the contents of my desk.  He insulted my character, I insulted his management style.  He called me an uptight dyke, and I lost my temper and suggested he'd been raised by chimpanzees.  He screamed a lot of things at me, things like 'filthy whore' and 'fat lazy bitch' and 'devil worshipper' and pulled out the termination paperwork he'd made me fill out during a 'personal counseling session' the week before, then said I might as well quit because 'worthless cunt' wasn't one of the options under 'reason for separation'.  I'm still not sure whether I quit that job or was fired from it, but he swung a golf putter at my head as I walked out the door.  Later, I sent a letter off to corporate detailing conditions in the Kansas City office and the circumstances surrounding my last day, and I cc'd it to the Missouri Department of Labor and the EEOC.  I don't know what happened from there, because I never heard from anyone connected to the company again.  I called a temp agency, who told me, "We were just about to call you!  A job opened up that's perfect for your skill set.  Can you start Monday?

The thing that really gets me is that if I'd read "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" when Pat recommended it to me, at the start of the job, I'd have quit right then and there, working at McDonald's or QuikTrip or wherever I had to, to get out of that situation.  Because I would have seen, halfway through chapter one, that there was no way I could work in that environment and keep that person in my life, if I wanted to stay true to my own principles and my own ideals.

No comments:

Post a Comment