How to survive the workplace
When I was a little kid, I would want to be something different every single week growing up. I wanted to become a doctor one week, an actress the next, a singer, a dancer, the President of the United States, etc….
As I got a bit older and got to know the ways of the world a bit more, I wanted to become something that would have me dressed as a high-powered executive with a big office, managing people and projects, and being incredibly busy and successful. I still wanted to be something different every week but I knew I wanted my job to somehow be meaningful and have a positive impact on the world. I knew I wanted to be good at whatever I did and of course, that image included wearing high heels.
I also knew one other truth – I wanted nothing to do with the medical profession.
I grew up with two parents who were and still are practicing physicians. I have a theory: in a household like mine where both parents are physicians, the kids either follow in their parents footsteps completely or they drastically swing the other way and do something different. I’m of the latter…my parents always encouraged me to do what I enjoy and that didn’t include the math or science club.
A month before I was due to graduate college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had no job prospects, I hadn’t started looking, but I still knew I wanted to make some kind of positive impact on the world. After a friend told me about an AmeriCorps position rehabbing houses in New Orléans, I immediately called up, interviewed, and got the job.
For the first 14 months of my post-student life, I worked really hard with some of the best people I have ever met to get homeowners back into their homes that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The work days were long and very physically and emotionally demanding. I got my first glimpse into all the red tape and frustrations one is susceptible too when working with a non-profit organization in a city that care forgot.
By the way, if you haven’t heard of Dr. John, look up more of his music. He is amazing and a New Orléans staple.
Some days, I wanted to pull my hair out. Yet, I had never slept better in my life. It was exactly the thing I wanted to do. Maybe not the construction side of it…but it was something that had a tangible and positive effect on someone’s life.
After my term ended, I got a position on a local political campaign and eventually in that Councilmember’s office as her Executive Assistant after she had won the election (by a landslide, I might add). I spent two years total working with the Councilmember. And I learned some extremely valuable lessons about my adult professional and personal life:
If you are going to do a job, there’s no other way to do it than by putting in 110%
Being a little Type-A is actually a good thing
If you want to get the best iced coffee in New Orléans, go to PJ’s.
You spend a lot of your life in the workplace, make it as comfortable as possible.
Never, ever burn bridges.
I will never, ever drink chicory coffee again.
Make sure to separate your professional and personal life.
Give yourself 2 hours after the work day to be completely work free. Your mind and body need that.
Things that don’t make you happy aren’t worth doing. Life is short.
Quitting is sometimes necessary. And that’s ok.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some pretty amazing people. The below six members of the 2010-2011 Council office are some of the greatest.
After I quit my job at the New Orléans City Council Office, I moved back to the Chicago area and back in with the folks.
I ping-ponged around a lot. I was a ski instructor, a development intern for a children’s museum, a backpacker in Europe, a Human Rights Campaign canvasser, and a volunteer marathon organizer for the American Liver Foundation.
And here’s what I learned (or re-learned) from those four jobs/experiences:
Life is short. And we only have one. So make it count.
I want to change the world for the better.
I want to be an 80-year old with great stories to tell.
I want to still be able to run half marathons at age 80.
I want to be happy and feel fulfilled in my profession…and the job’s not worth it if I’m not happy.
I learned what I don’t want to do. And I don’t want to have to wear high heels.
I learned I want to work for a non-profit.
I want to do something active. I don’t want to be stuck in an office all day.
I want to work for a woman. I have never yet worked for a man.
I would be so happy if I could just run, discuss running and drink coffee and get paid for it.
It’s necessary and more economical to have a coffee bar in the office. One will be going in my new office later this month.
So now, here I am with one week of the new job under my belt. I run, discuss running, and am actually getting paid for it…along with some other things.
The job of Event Manager for the American Liver Foundation, which was pretty much tailored for me, is overwhelming to say the least. I already have a list about three pages long of things that need to be done ASAP and new things are constantly being added. My boss (a woman) has told me that if I began to ever feel comfortable about the job, she’d fire me.
I appreciate her candor. The Councilmember said the same thing in different words to a colleague about me when I started working with her….of course, she made sure I was in earshot. If I ever have a boss that didn’t tell me they’d fire me in one of my first days on the job, I’d probably be feel a little off-kilter.
Yet, I’ve had a very good first week despite the fact that the job ahead of me sometimes seems daunting. I pulled off a smooth and successful celebration reception for the ALF runners. I managed to get a national ad campaign underway at a major fitness magazine. Best of all, the national ad campaign is being paid for by the national office – not our local chapter. SCORE! And I knocked it out of the ballpark with a Sponsorship Packet that I put together. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending how you look at it), I need to redo some of the other sponsorship packets to match the one I just created.