Archive for the 'career' Category


your job as your “ministry”

Reader T. M. writes:

My boss is anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, and homophobic. He calls people or things “gay” when he means “stupid”; he claims women are always overly emotional; and he uses words like “spic” or “illegal” to talk about immigrants or people who speak Spanish. Most of my coworkers are pretty much exactly the same way he is. As an educated, self-defined liberal, I’m really fed up. How do you suggest I go about finding a new job with people I can actually work with?

Dear T.M.:

You’ve definitely got it rough, and I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of talk. I’m sure if you called your boss out on his language he’d say that talking like that doesn’t mean he’s racist, sexist, or homophobic — some of his best friends are gay Mexican women! And if your coworkers are the same way, you’re unlikely to get much sympathy from them.

But I think you should stay at your job exactly for this reason.

Getting out boxing gloves is a bad idea.

I wouldn't recommend the boxing gloves. Image: Ambro /

My evangelical Christian friends have a huge debate going on Facebook right now about whether or not your paying job is more important than your “ministry”. One of the answers I rather agree with is that your paying job should be your ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe proselytizing at the office (or anywhere else) is okay. But I was always taught growing up that the way you live your life is your greatest “ministry”.

What I mean is, people believe things strongly and live their lives accordingly. You firmly believe that racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong, and you could probably back up your reasoning with some great arguments. Your boss, however, clearly doesn’t believe that. And you may be the only exposure he has in a given day to someone who does believe those things are wrong. If you leave, he’s just going to be surrounded by a bunch of people who agree with him, and never have to question why he thinks the way he does.

It would be easy to go through life surrounded entirely by people who agree with you and believe the same things you do. That’s what the Internet has done to us — we’re surrounded by opinions exactly like ours, because that’s what we search out and find. Most of your friends on Facebook probably post things you agree with, and if you don’t, I’m guessing you’ve figured out the “unsubscribe” option by now. Your Google search will even tailor its results to match things you already read, so you’re not going to find anything that disagrees with your opinion without trying really, really hard.

But if you don’t ever challenge your beliefs, how can you grow as a person?

By this point you may have guessed that I mean the learning has to go in both directions. First of all, you offer a differing view of the world to your boss (and coworkers) than what he’s used to seeing. You may have to speak up about it once in a while and let him know, and he may not appreciate that, but you can consider it your “ministry”. You can even point out that he’s setting himself up for a lawsuit from someone who is perhaps a bit more litigious than you. It is extremely unlikely he’ll change his ways. But the fact that he’s been challenged about them at all is a pretty big deal.

And on the flip side, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can’t learn something from him. He’s got ideas different from your own, which means you should sit up and listen to what he has to say. Not because he’s right, but because he’s different. Why does he believe the things he believes? And how can you reject his beliefs outright without first understanding why he believes them?

The discourse between you may just serve to strengthen your own beliefs, or you may learn something new. I’m not saying you should strive to be racist, sexist, or homophobic, of course. But there are probably other points you disagree on that he can teach you something about.

Do you know why racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong? Can you explain it in a rational way? If not, learning why he apparently thinks it’s not wrong to say those things could help you with your own argument.

Of course, there does come a point when hanging out around hate speech is just abuse. It’s hard to sue for a “hostile work environment” if the speech isn’t directed against you specifically, but if you’re uncomfortable, you should speak up. Check out your employee handbook on your company’s policies, and if he’s violating them, call him out on it, or have HR call him out on it. If you’re capable of having a rational, unemotional discussion about it with him, do so. Again, it may be the only time in his life he’s ever asked to consider what his words really mean in the sphere around him.

Just don’t go running to to look for your perfect, not-for-profit liberal social justice job quite yet. The world may need you where you are.


asking for a raise

Reader H. U. writes:

I have been working for the same company for over a year now, which doesn’t sound like much, but most of my friends tend not to stay longer than six months at any one place, so it feels like a lot. Like most overeducated kids my age, I’m underpaid (and underutilized, but whatever). I’d like to ask my boss for a raise. What do you suggest I do?

Dear H.U.:

I have read so many columns about this exact question. What’s one more?

Having done this several times myself, I can tell you it’s only worked once for me. So here are my tried and true tips for asking (but maybe not actually for getting):

Get all the encouragement you can. Yep, this is exactly why one more column on this subject can’t hurt, in my opinion. You may read the same advice over and over, but you need to get psyched. So do it. Google up, kiddo.

– Make sure you deserve it. If you want an increase in pay, you’re going to have to prove that it’s a good investment for the company, not just because you’re a precious snowflake. Definitely put together a list of all the amazing successes you’ve had in the past year. They should be proof that you increase the value of the company or the company’s product, and if you can prove that the place can’t get on without you, you’re golden.

Don't do this

Wait to do this until you get home. Image: Ambro /

Make sure you don’t NOT deserve it. On the flipside, make a list of the mistakes you’ve made, because if your boss has been paying attention, he or she may bring these up to counter your question. Be prepared to say what you’ve learned and how you can assure things will not go sour that way again. You don’t have to bring these lists into the meeting with you, but they may help you keep track of what you’re saying.

Know what you’re worth. Don’t just ask for “a raise”. Do the research. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, and anywhere else you can think of to list what the salary range is for your job title, actual work, experience, and education.  A lot of people are underpaid these days, so you’ll probably be pretty grossed out at how bad your pay is for the work you do. Don’t get emotional about it; just be armed with the statistics so you know a good range.

Know what you want. Decide how much of an increase you expect, and how much you would actually accept. While you shouldn’t ask for too much, if you have proof you’re worth a lot more than they pay you, they may give you a compromise that won’t be too shabby.

Don’t be a nuisance. If you wander into her office during a huge campaign and whine about your low pay, you may just get fired. Pretend you have an idea of what’s going on in the company on an emotional and fiscal level, even if you really don’t. Wait until after a big financial success (especially if you caused that success), and make an appointment.

– Ask earlier in the day, when your boss doesn’t have anything else huge on her/his plate. There is such a thing as decision fatigue, and you have a better chance of avoiding that if you ask in the morning than in the evening.

Have another offer waiting in the wings. This sounds like a dick move, but it’s really the only way to let them know you’re serious. “I’ve got an offer from X&X and they’re offering me 15% more” is a lot more powerful than “I’ve been here a year and think I deserve a raise”. (BTW, telling them you’ve got another offer should be your opening line.) This is, however, also the hardest part of job negotiation in the current economy. There aren’t that many jobs out there to begin with, let alone many that will offer you 15% more than the job you make now. But you can still look, and your current company will be faced with a decision about whether they can and will keep you.

Practice. You don’t have to memorize a speech, but you should know what you’re going to say. Go over it in your head a few times, or take a friend out to coffee and have them play the devil’s advocate. You want to go in prepared and relaxed. This may be the most nerve-wracking thing you’ll ever have to do at a job, so the more prepared you can be for it, the better. (You’re trying to prove you deserve it, after all.)

Don’t settle for “no”. Be proactive. If your boss tells you the company can’t give you a raise right now, ask for tips on how to assure they can in the future. Ask for more responsibility. It’s up to you to make the company want to keep you. And remember that company with the raise waiting in the wings? You might need to head that way if you really need the money.

Good luck!


co worker leaving early

Reader N. A. writes:

I have a new colleague sitting in the cubicle next to mine. He apparently doesn’t understand that we count the hour for lunch as non-work time. So he comes in at 9, takes an hour for lunch, and leaves at 5. What should I do?

Dear N.A.:

You have several options in this case.

1. Tell him yourself.

can't smoke in here

Dude, you can't smoke in here, either. Image:

Be nice about it, but take him aside and give him a heads up. Make it a word of advice from a friendly co-worker, rather than a threat from a rival. You could email him so nobody has to hear you telling him. Just let him know you’ve noticed he takes the hour for lunch and you don’t want him to get in trouble.

2. Tell HR to tell him.

This saves you the embarrassment of having to tell someone how to do their job, but it also makes you the office tattle tale. Of course, it also adds an official measure to the whole ordeal, so if it ends up later he has other work issues beyond abusing the schedule, there’s a case for getting rid of him. Nevertheless, it’s supposed to be HR’s job to inform new employees about official rules and scheduling, so passing them the buck is an entirely viable option.

3. If you don’t have an HR department, tell your supervisor.

Again, this is the tattle tale way to go, but it’s also official and saves you some anonymity, depending on how your supervisor handles it, and on how small your company is. If your supervisor is a good supervisor (I know, a very rare species), they will simply tell your new co-worker the rules without mentioning you. But if they say, “Hey, so-and-so said you’ve been leaving early,” you’re going to end up looking like a douche. If you’re in a small company where it’s going to be obvious anyway, you might as well just sack up them ovaries and tell the co-worker yourself.

4. Don’t say anything.

To be totally honest, this is probably the most right advice I have here. Is it your business that he’s leaving early? Not really. Unless it affects your work personally, it’s probably not a big deal. I know that we all have an urge to make sure everyone is following the rules to a T, because it’s not fair if someone isn’t. But really, why does it bother you that he’s taking an hour for lunch and leaving at a reasonable time? We Americans are such dicks about making work our universe. Office life doesn’t have to be the only life you have. Let the guy have an hour to himself during the work day and get home to his family on time. It’s not going to bring our country down in socialist flames. And don’t forget that by enforcing the rules yourself, you bring yourself under closer scrutiny. Maybe your best route in this case is just to take it upon yourself to allow your co-worker to damn the man for as long as he can. Eventually, someone else will probably notice he’s bending the rules, and he probably won’t get into too much trouble if he’s the new guy and he “just didn’t know”. Let HR do their job, unless you really feel like you’re going to be helping the guy out by ruining his lunch hour.


life as a ghostwriter

Reader J.E. writes:

I’m a brand-new PhD thinking of leaving academia for ghostwriting. Most of my professional experience is in technical writing, but I’d like to get into fiction, maybe erotic fiction. My primary interest is in your read on the probabilities of earning a financially comfortable living. As you see things, are the chances for making a living and choosing the city you live in worse in ghostwriting than in academia? (It’s not so hard to make a living in academia; it’s hard to make a living in the city of your choice.)

Dear J.E.:

I wrote a piece sometime last year about being a freelance writer. For the most part, I’ve found that it’s really, really hard to make money off of writing, because 1) everyone already thinks they can write, so why would they want to hire someone to do it for them?, and, 2) people don’t care about the quality of content as much as the quantity these days, so why would anyone pay someone a decent amount of money to write well anyway?, and, 3) thanks to the Interwebz, most content is free, so why would anyone pay someone to write anything at all if they can’t make money off it?

Of course, this isn’t entirely true. Some columnists get paid the dollars to write content; some authors get paid to write books; some copywriters get paid some amount of money to fill in Websites… albeit none of these professionals is paid as much as, say, a graphic designer, a Web designer, or a photographer. And let it be known that there are probably as many starving writers out there as there are starving actors. Most of the writers I know hold down day jobs and do their writing on the side, often without any payment whatsoever. (This blog, btw, makes me absolutely no money whatsoever. It’s just writing practice so I can “keep my hand in”.)

Fiction is a very hard realm to break into, even of the erotic sort. Getting paid to write fiction is one part utter determination, one part luck, one part who you know, and one very, very small part actual talent. Where you live does not necessarily factor into your success at all, thanks again to the Interwebz, although it is easier to meet with an editor or agent if you’re living in New York or L.A. than if you’re in, say, Albuquerque.

Ghostwriting is a different matter than freelancing, although they stem from the same family tree. It depends on the sort of ghostwriting you’re looking to do, of course, as well as what you’re willing to do. There are types of ghostwriting that are perfectly honest — helping a politician write a book about his/her life, or writing one of those self-help books that don’t really publicize who wrote the book (The X For Dummies series, for instance). There are other ghostwriting opportunities that are similarly lucrative, but a bit more shady in the zone of ethics, like writing peoples’ academic papers for them (something you are completely qualified to do, given your PhD).

Having said all that, I should come back to the issue of geography.


I can't believe this yo-yo makes us write our content by hand first. Image: photostock /

There are many old school people who don’t understand the World Wide Web who want all their copywriters and content creators to be completely local, and many of them happen to reside in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, and other large cities around the U.S. They have absolutely no problem finding underpaid writers in their area codes to write their content for them, and there will always be more underpaid writers to do so after those writers have thrown in the towel and moved away. Furthermore, there will always be more writing jobs in the larger cities, and by not living in those cities, you may be restricting your opportunities to write for the aforementioned Web-illiterate employers.

At the same time, you should be able to find Web savvy people who don’t care where you’re located and will hire you for your skills rather than your locale. These are people who understand Skype and Gmail, and probably have highly successful Web pages. There is hope!

For more hope: There are also many writers who don’t live in the major metropolitan areas and are doing quite well for themselves. A few examples: George R. R. Martin lives in New Mexico, and he’s making a ton of money on his novels; Stephen King (maybe you’ve heard of him?) is based in Maine; I have met writers here in New Mexico who write “X for Dummies” books and continue to live in this neck of the woods; I myself have been able to write for Websites based out of New Zealand and New Jersey without getting on a plane. I will make one distinction here, though: George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, and the other writers living in obscure areas may have been highly successful before they moved away from the urban centers defined above; I am not highly or wildly successful in writing. I’m not sure if the ability to choose where you work comes after the success, or if the success comes regardless of where you choose to work.

I will finish with this final word of hope: Given your credentials (a PhD ain’t nothing to scoff at!), I would assume you can write from wherever you please. Especially if you’re already published (beyond your dissertation) and/or have a portfolio to back you up. Plus, I’m sure you know people who know other people who need books ghostwritten for them. I say go for it. Don’t let the Ivory Tower’s immovability keep you from living where you want to live.



the modern mom dilemma

Reader J.S. writes:

I’m a highly educated woman who has a great career ahead of her, but I’m also pregnant with my first child. My office will give me three months of maternity leave, and then I could return to full-time work (but they have told me they can’t allow me to do a part-time gig). My husband makes a good amount of money, and I could stay home with the baby without a job if I wanted to. But I’m afraid of the repercussions of taking myself out of the workforce — I’ve heard getting back in is impossible. Still, the idea of staying home is really tempting. What do you think?

Dear J.S.:

Don't do this at work.

Probably not a good idea to bare your pregnant belly at work. Image: Louisa Stokes /

You’ve pretty much asked the quintessential question of the “post-feminist age”: if a woman has the means to stay home and raise her children, should she?

I think the bigger question is: how can a woman decide whether staying at home with her children or having an exciting career will be more fulfilling?

I’ve gotta’ throw a few elbows and point out how unfair it is that this is not a question for your husband. (Which is why I don’t believe we live in a “post-feminist age”.) In our current universe, he doesn’t have to wonder whether having children will interfere with his career. (In fact, having kids can actually make him look better to his employers.) It’s unfair.

I’m not going to hop on the biological debate train and say that it’s also unfair that he doesn’t have to gain 40 lbs and go through morning sickness, or that it’s unfair to him that he doesn’t get that automatic bonding with the child that you do since you carry the child in your womb. Biology is not something we have a choice in; our careers are.

Whether it’s biological for a woman to stay home and take care of the children or not (I mean, c’mon, we’ve only been working out of the home for the past 200 years or so), it’s a tough call. Yes, you are lucky that you have the resources that you can make this choice. Many moms can’t. But I don’t envy you the task of choosing.

I’m going to lay out a series of things for you to think about and let you make the choice, because there’s no way I can absolutely advise you one way or the other.

Getting back into a career is hard after you’ve taken a dozen years off.

You’re right — common wisdom says it is hard to get back on the career track once you’ve pulled yourself out of it. However, some people disagree that this is the case for various reasons. You may not be as tied to mommyhood once you make the choice to stay home as common wisdom says. I’d also like to point out that nobody knows what the world or economy will look like in 10 years or whenever you’re ready to get back into the workplace. You need to make your decision based on how you feel now, not based on what you think some employer is going to want to do with you in a decade’s time.

Maybe another employer would give you more flex time.

Not all employers are incapable of giving their employees part-time gigs. You could find another job, or, since you’re so educated, look into consultancy. You might not have to choose entirely between career and family. In fact, you and your husband might be able to find that ideal employer (that exists only in, like, Sweden) that allows families to split time between each other so that you could both choose who gets to stay home and play with baby and who gets to go in and work. This leads me to…

Your husband probably has more of an option in this than you or he think he does.

I’m guessing he has a right to some paternity leave, too. The family flex time option may be a pipe dream in most of America for a while. But maybe he could work part-time and take care of the kids for a few years himself. Maybe you could both work part-time. There are all kinds of interesting, flexible options in the modern workplace for parents. While it’s unfair that you have to choose between career and baby, it’s also unfair that your husband traditionally doesn’t even have the option presented to him. Why not give him a chance to stay home with the kids sometimes, too? Depending on what you’re willing to do, neither of you has to choose the traditional route that we sometimes feel cornered into, unless that traditional route is what you’re after.

How you feel when the baby happens may dictate what you do.

You haven’t had the kid yet. You don’t really know how you’re going to react to staying at home all day doing kid things. A career is not always just about getting yourself ahead — it’s also about having an outlet to have adult conversations and get out of the house. You may be one of those women who is totally capable of enjoying spit up, Disney lullabies, and not being allowed to cuss all day. Or you could be one of those ladies who needs a place to talk about nuclear weapons or politics or adult stuff. You may find that you fall absolutely in love with your baby’s face when he/she is born and never want to be away from it. Or you may find that you need a break from the screaming and your job is a great place for that. I can’t say.

What most progresses women’s needs around the world?

This may sound like a ridiculous question, but it’s something I think about personally. And what I’m going to tell you is that, in this case, this question should not factor into your decision. Whatever is best for you is best for the women of the world. That’s right: I’m giving you a feminist freebie. Nobody can dictate to any woman what is right or wrong in this case, so don’t worry about the weight of the world of women resting on your shoulders. Choosing to stay home and raise your children will not repeal women’s suffrage, and going back to work after having your child will not force other women into job slavery.

Talk to your friends, find a support blog, and figure out how you feel.

I’m sure you’ve got other women your age who are going through the same quandary. And there are plenty of mommy blogs on the interwebz for you to sift through. Find arguments that resonate with you and see which side of the debate they put you on.

If all else fails, get a pair of dice or draw straws out of a hat. Or have someone else decide for you. Sometimes when we have the decision laid out for us in an absolute manner, we can better see what option we really want.

Good luck. And congrats on the baby.


too much time at the watering hole?

Reader M.S. writes:

My problem is my favorite hangout. As a freelance writer, I don’t work in an office and I could work whenever and whereever that I want. I just feel that I am spending too much time at my hangout. Now, like I said, I’m still very productive and I have not gotten any backlash at all, so they have no problem with me using their wi-fi. It’s just that I am there five days and 20 hours a week. I have not been blessed with a lot of friends in my (soon to be) 30 years of life and to find a group of people that respect me and see me as a friend (at least some of them do) has been something that has been very refreshing for me. I guess my question is: is there anything wrong with hanging out in a resturant/bar (I sit at the bar because I am friends with a couple of the bartenders, but I don’t drink) for so much time? I like to think I’m a smart, unique individual, but I am still going to ask if this is okay. I’d feel a lot better if I was wasting time in a library or Starbucks, rather than Hooters, even if I would be doing the same thing no matter where I was. The other thing about this is that I take the subway to get there because I live in a different borough than where the resturant is, so it’s not like I could pop in after work for 30 minutes and then leave, I kind of have to stay for an hour or two at least to justify the trip.

So am I worrying about something that I should not be worried about, because I do have other problems like getting writing gigs and how I’m going to make money as a freelance writer. Or should I try to find other hobbies and split my time more? At this point, I’m either at home, at a computer lab at Brooklyn College or this place. Is that bad?

Dear M.S.:

I’m going to quote Hamlet on this one: Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, 250-251)

old man on a computer

You can stay home to do work when you're old. Image: Maggie Smith /

I say if you’re enjoying yourself and you’ve found a nice group of people, there is no problem going somewhere regularly to do your work, even somewhere like Hooters. Even if you don’t drink. Even if you’re opposed to ogling amply-busted women. If none of these issues is keeping you from going to your favorite hang out, then going there is more positive for you than not going there.


But if you’re really having trouble with it, maybe you do need to find somewhere else to hang out. What I mean is, if you’re thinking it’s bad, it’ll be bad.

I’ve talked about this before, but in linguistics we talk about the difference between prescribed rules and described rules. Prescribed rules are the ones that we enforce on language; the grammar our second grade teachers push into our heads so that we write well. (Like using “well” instead of “good” in that last sentence. That’s prescribed.) Described rules are those that you come up with if you just sit back and listen; the actual rules people use when they’re not thinking about it and are just talking. When you’re not applying prescribed rules, the described rules that you naturally follow can be quite different.

I find the same is true in the rest of life. Prescribed rules say nice girls don’t sleep with a guy on the first date. Prescribed rules say guys who don’t drink shouldn’t hang out at bars. Described rules say otherwise.

Take a look at the rules you’re holding yourself to and decide if they’re really the rules you believe in. Are you really the type of guy who hangs out at libraries? Apparently not. Is there anything wrong with being the guy who uses the Wi-Fi at Hooters? Survey says: no.

Ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable with the issue in the first place. Is it your social image? Is it rules your parents taught you? Is it comments from friends or family? Are you spending more money than you’re making?

If you can reconcile your feelings of inclusion and love (yep, having people know your name somewhere is love) with your feelings of moral or financial obligation or whatever else is going on in your head, then you’re okay.

You can look for freelance work anywhere. You and I both know that’s true. You might as well enjoy yourself while you do it. As long as your work isn’t suffering, there’s nothing wrong happening here.

I say, since you’re a writer, write down how you feel. Do a pros and cons list. Figure out just what it is that’s bothering you so much about this and either come to terms with it or let it keep you from going back. (Apparently, it’s not so far, so my guess is it’s not really that big of a deal to you.)

If you just need outside assurance that what you’re doing is okay, here it is: Kat Cox says it’s okay. Hooters is not a bad place unless you think it is. Hell, I’m not one to draw lines in the sand about these sorts of things, but if you have to, tell yourself the following:

It’s not a strip club. You’re not doing anything illegal. You’re not getting into trouble. You’re getting work done. You’re fulfilling your social needs. You’re stimulating the economy. And who knows, you might just be making somebody’s day.

As far as finding other hobbies goes, yes, you should probably find some other hobbies eventually. I think everyone should have myriad hobbies. I know it’s cold in Brooklyn right now, but once the spring hits, you should find some social team to be a part of that’ll get you outside of your house (and Hooters). There are lots of things to do in NYC.

Plus, any place gets old after a while. The group dynamic at your bar will change somehow. Your favorite bartenders may leave or move on. Someone new may come in that you can’t stand. It happens. You’re probably going to find a new place to go, too, eventually. Just be prepared for that.

But for the time being: you’re doing just fine.



job hatred

Reader Y. K. writes:

I hate my job. I know it’s a bad economy, and I know if I have a job I shouldn’t be complaining, but I dread going in every single day. I should probably shake myself out of it, but I don’t know how. Any ideas?

Dear Y.K.:

The first thing I want to tell you is that you’re not alone. According to one poll, 84% of workers in America can’t wait to quit their jobs and find a new one. (Compare that with only 60% last year.) Apparently, thanks to that magical word “recession”, our bosses have gotten stingier, our work has gotten harder, and we’ve become worse workers because of it, which only adds to the cycle. There are definitely a lot of people in your boat right now.

You’re right, the economy is bad, but a lot of economists are saying it’s going to start getting better soon, and we can probably look forward to a lot of people switching jobs as the economy looks up. But until that time, it may be better to hold on and be grateful for what you have.

I have a few ideas to make you feel better about it:

Job got you down?

Job got you down? Image: renjith krishnan /

Change your mindset. You’ve probably got all the switches in your brain set to “negative” right now when it comes to your job. Turn that around. Force yourself to think about what you like about the job. Even if it’s only one little thing (it’s not a long commute; you get to wear jeans on Fridays; you have one fun coworker; anything), focus on that. Make it your mantra. Whenever you find yourself complaining, especially if you’re at work, force yourself to think of something else. Look at pictures of kittens if you have to. I have a friend who does push ups whenever negative feelings about work come up. It’s a good practice to apply to your whole life, too.

Be amazing at your job. One of the greatest ways to distract yourself from how much you hate what you do is just to throw yourself into it. Make it a game. Set goals. Sell more than anyone else. Smile more than anyone else. Wear yourself out being amazing at what you do. This accomplishes a few things: it distracts you from hating things so much; it gives you something to like about work (i.e. you’re good at it); and it will help you get a good reference when you do finally leave the hell hole. Try not to burn any bridges, is basically what I’m telling you. No no no, what I’m telling you is, don’t just NOT burn the bridges; actively repair them and make them beautiful. It’s harder to build something than it is to destroy it, but it’s very worth it in the end.

Watch what you say and who you say it to. It’s easy to talk trash about work, especially when you hate it, and while I think you should try to change your mindset, sometimes you’ve got to gush to someone. While it may be extremely difficult to do, I’d recommend not talking too negatively to coworkers, especially when you’re at work. Regardless of what you say or how wrong things may be, if the wrong people hear it or misconstrue it, you’re in trouble. Just assume everyone in your office talks to everyone else about everything. If you do need to complain to someone, make it an official complaint to HR. Take the rest of your complaints to your friends outside work. Yes, it is good to feel like people are in your corner, but it can come back and bite you in the ass, especially in a larger company. Go vent to the Bad Boss Contest over at Working America. Just don’t vent to Joe in the cubicle next to you unless you want Joe to tell your boss.

Find ways to make changes happen. Beyond just trying to focus on the positive, be proactive about creating more positives. Talk to your boss about getting different work, or having different opportunities. Make sure you frame it as something positive (“I’d like more responsibility”) rather than negative (“I hate it here”). Talk to HR about “new opportunities”.

Apply to other jobs. Probably not while you’re at your current job, as that would be a great way to get fired. But it can help you feel like you have some control over the situation. Yes, the economy’s bad. But there are jobs out there, and you may hit the jackpot. Remember, of course, that you run the risk of hating whatever job it is you’re going to end up in, but at least applying to new ones on the weekends or after work can give you something to hope for.

Good luck… I hope 2011 brings you a happy new job somewhere amazing!


work emails

Reader A. J. writes:

I have a coworker who sends out political emails to all our work addresses. It probably wouldn’t bother me so much, but I really don’t agree with his political point of view. I can’t decide if I should complain to human resources to get him to stop or not. What do you think?

Dear A.J.:

Delete, delete, delete.

That’s what I think you should be doing. Whenever I get spam emails, I delete them without giving them a second look. Quit letting political jabber get to you and treat these emails for what they are: spam.


This is what I do with my junk email. Image: federico stevanin /

We do this every day with other outlets of opinion. You probably only read news from outlets that already reflect what you believe, thereby reiterating your world view. Everyone does it. The news media is rife with political opinions we may or may not agree with. If you were at home watching TV and a pundit came on that you didn’t like, you’d either change the channel so you could ignore her or watch the show so you could get riled up to fight people of her ilk.

Deleting these emails is tantamount to changing the channel, in my opinion. Or you could read them to make yourself angry. But I wouldn’t recommend that because, unlike your relationship with the national punditry, work relationships are often forced upon you. You don’t generally choose who you work with (unless you’re the boss), so this situation is a little different than hating Rachael Maddow or Glenn Beck.

Is your coworker trying to engage you in a conversation at the water cooler about the emails? In that case, it may be time to confront him, but gently and without endangering your work relationship. Tell him (via email, in this case) that you prefer to keep your politics at home, and if he would be so kind as to remove your work address from his email list, you’d appreciate it.

He may give you flak for this, but if you find you are incapable of simply deleting and ignoring the junk mail, it is your most noble course of action.

It’s funny, though, isn’t it? You can have one employee who sends out harmless junk email that contains lovely pictures of sunsets or children or animals, and you’re fine with it, but when another employee sends out political stuff you don’t agree with, it makes you want to call in the HR department. Unless there is a guideline in your company’s employee manual regarding “improper use of company email” that specifically states no personal usage is allowed, you’re basically just being the kindergarten tattle tale if you go to the HR manager.

And if there is no company policy in place now, you might be opening a can of worms that will lead to one, and may not be as happy and shiny as you want it to be. More restrictions in the workplace just make everything more tense, so sometimes it’s better just to fly under the radar.

Of course, HR departments are supposed to be in place to mediate between employees and employers and all that jazz, so if you feel this person will be angry if you ask him to stop, okay, fine, go to HR. There are probably other people in the company who are tired of receiving his emails, too, so you may be a company hero. But you’ll also be ending the flow of political emails you do agree with, not to mention those delightful pictures of sunsets and children and animals.

(Okay, who am I kidding, does anyone really enjoy receiving those endless forwards from the old person in the company? Honestly? Sometimes they’re funny, sure, or even cute, but most of the time it seems as if the person is just reveling in the fact that they learned how to press “forward” and has access to a boundless amount of email addresses, i.e. the company contact list. Merf.)

So yes, I definitely think keeping your personal issues with your colleague’s work emails between you and him is your best option here. Leave HR out of it unless you’re ready to bring a world of pain on everyone else, or unless you don’t think the colleague will be able to handle you asking him to leave you alone. Keep it professional, which is what you want him to do in the end.



Reader C. H. asks:

I’m afraid to ask this girl out because I’m pretty sure she’s going to reject me. I’m completely paralyzed by this, and I feel like she’s already rejected me. What can I do to get over this?

Dear C.H.:

A friend once told me in college that my biggest problem was that I was too likeable and never experienced rejection. This was partially true. The other side of that coin was that I was too afraid to put myself in a situation where I could possibly be rejected. I’ve always tended to hang out with people who are going to like me. I think this is pretty common — most of us prefer being liked to being disliked. And it played into my dating life, too. I never pursued anyone I wasn’t at least 98% sure was pretty solidly into me (usually because he was pursuing me, of course). It was safe this way. Things were easy.

But this kind of risk aversion played into other parts of my life, too. It also kept me from trying new things. I probably could have been an awesome addition to the crew team. Or not. But I never tried. Theater was safe; sports teams, not so much.


rejection makes you stronger

Rejection makes us stronger. Image: Stefano Valle /


Perhaps the biggest issue this fear of rejection promoted has to do with my writing. In spite of the fact that writing is the one thing I enjoy doing above all others, I decided not to pursue it in college. Furthermore, I hardly ever let anyone read what I wrote. What if it wasn’t all that good? What if someone rejected me as a writer? I would never send something to a publisher, for sure. That rejection would be too much to handle.

And what a safe life I led!

And what a boring one!

The fact is, rejection is a completely natural part of life. Just like dying! It’s true. Just like experiencing the death of a loved one, rejection helps us grow. It can’t all be puppies and rainbows all the time. You’d turn into a flabby, boring, waste of space.

After college and a stint at some pretty cruddy jobs (in spite of having a fancy pants undergraduate degree), I decided I had to at least try to find some validation in my writing, somewhere. So I applied to seven MFA programs and kept my fingers crossed.

I got rejected from six of them. I was accepted to one. You can imagine how excited I was to be accepted at that point.

Since then, rejection has been a lot easier. Why? Because I went on living and breathing even though NYU didn’t want me in their MFA program. Even better, I kept writing.

Could the actual rejection be any worse than the torture you’re putting yourself through imagining how the rejection is going to occur? You have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Now I set myself up for rejection all the time. I date people I’m not sure are totally crazy for me. (Most of them, it ends up, aren’t even remotely crazy for me.) I apply to jobs I have absolutely no chance of getting. I play on a kickball team and run with a running group, even though I have absolutely no athletic skill whatsoever.

Is it embarrassing? Sometimes. Do I suffer heartbreak? Often. Does it make me a stronger, better person? Indubitably.

So man up, amigo. Ask the girl out and get the rejection over with. You’ve probably already tainted any chance you have with her by expecting the rejection, anyway, but you’re going to feel a ton better when you know for sure, from her own mouth, that she’s not into you. And you’ll have more confidence to ask out the next girl. The only way you’re going to get out of this paralysis over your imaginary rejection is to actually undergo the rejection.

And imagine how much better you’re going to feel after this rejection when the next girl says yes! Having a bit of vinegar makes the sweetness that much sweeter.

A friend said to me recently: “I compare rejection to bike accidents. Sometimes they fuck you up, but after having so many of them, most of them don’t amount to anything. And if I’m getting in wrecks, at least it means I’m trying.”

So get in a wreck. Do it a lot. You’ll be less afraid of failing. The paralysis will go away.

Tell you what, you ask the girl out, and I’ll send a story to the New Yorker. Deal?


office strife

Reader T. M. writes:

The other day I went over to a coworker’s cubicle to ask him a question. He wasn’t there, but he’d left his computer on and unlocked, and I noticed an IM on his screen to another coworker had my name in it. I couldn’t help but read it while I was standing there. Let’s just say the  IM conversation wasn’t particularly flattering to me and I was insulted and hurt. Both of these coworkers are supposed to be friends of mine — we’ve even gone out to happy hour a few times and I went to one of their birthday parties a few weeks ago. Now I’m not sure what to do. Should I confront them about the conversation and what they said, even though I’m not supposed to know about it in the first place? Should I just cut ties with them both? I’m really hurt and confused.

Dear T. M.:

I’m sorry you had to come across that kind of back-handed nastiness. If your coworkers had a problem with you, they should have said so to your face. But obviously it’s a rare bird who is willing to own up to his or her actual feelings, particularly when they’re negative and about someone else. It’s too late now and you can’t un-see that IM. So I say be proactive.

watch out!

Loose fingers sink friendships. Image: br3akthru /

First things first: you should remember that IM conversations are different beasts than face-to-face conversation. What I mean is, you may have seen something out of context that was part of a longer, harmless joke. Or you may not have understood the sentiment of the conversation — there could have been sarcasm or tones you weren’t party to by just seeing that part of the convo.

The problem with lots of modern communication like texts and IMs, beyond the fact that they’re easy to misinterpret, is the fact that they are actual reproducible records of what we say. We can joke around with our voices and never have to worry about what we’ve said being shown word-for-word to someone who wasn’t part of the original conversation (unless we’re being followed by a camera crew for a reality show or a budding linguist who records conversations for research). Unfortunately, this same devil-may-care attitude doesn’t necessarily translate well to the written forms. While we as a culture (or a generation, perhaps) take IMs or texts about as seriously as we take regular voice conversations (i.e. not seriously at all), textual convos can be used as incriminating evidence later on. Just ask any number of government officials who have been caught sending naughty texts to interns or supposed protegés. We don’t take what we write very seriously, and it can certainly come back to haunt us.

Basically, what I meant by that last paragraph was “let us all take this as a lesson”. I’m sure you’ve got a few IM conversations in your closet you’d rather not have seen in the light of day. But probably Google has a record of them somewhere. Imagine what offenses you could have caused to curious eyes, even if you didn’t mean them. It’s possible (and probable) your coworkers said things in this IM that they didn’t mean. In fact, I would argue that IMs can be taken even less seriously than real conversations, in spite of their reproducibility. I know it’s no comfort to you, but there are things we’re willing to type that we’d never say out loud to anyone, because it would just be too much.

In any case, you should probably figure out what the IM actually meant. You’re going to be stewing over it anyway. You might as well know if they really meant to insult you. If they did, you can tell them you don’t appreciate it and end the friendship in a whirl of flaming glory. Piece of cake. If they meant something else, you’ll at least have a clear mind over it and you can feel better, although I doubt you’ll be willing to be as close with them as you were before. Unless you’re a masochist, hanging out with people who belittle you isn’t usually fun. The trust is broken.

I hate to do victim blaming, but you kind of brought this on yourself, too. I would also warn you not to read private IM conversations, but first off, you already know that, and secondly, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that kind of curiosity. And it may be better that you found out how these people feel about you, even if it had to be in this manner.

I think the one thing we can all take away from this is that we should try to think before we send our own IMs. And who’s actually going to do that?

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