[How to Have a Day Job] 5 Things I Never Would Have Learned Without One

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Some days, it’s hard to have perspective about your day job. Suddenly, something happens and you’re all 1) crying, 2) stressed out beyond all sanity, or 3) gassy. Hell, sometimes it’s all three. And you get those Lifetime movie moments where you think, “I could just get in my car and drive. Drive away from all this.”

That’s why it’s good, when there’s a pause between the bombshells going off, to think what experiences you would lose if not for your job. And as much as I’m sure you’re going, “I could live without those experiences, let me tell you,” I think that is wrong.

Here are five of mine.

  1. Resumes: yeah, I know, I got the stickiest one out of the way first. But this has actually come up surprisingly often. Because of my business writing experience, I have a resume for my writing career. It helps me to focus and see where I want to flesh out my abilities.
  2. Appreciation for customer service: I’ve heard it said that everyone should have to work retail or food service at least once. I’d like to add to that that everyone should have to take inbound calls in a call center for a day, minimum. You have no idea what the other end of that feels like until you’ve been in that seat, sweating and being screamed at and then having to come right back with a big smile and a “Thank you for calling Such and Such, how can I help you?”
  3. Being an adult: I was grappling with how to word this one, and I’m not trying to sound condescending. If you can make it through life without ever having to deal with the crowded fish tank that is the corporate life, you are fortunate. But when you are exposed to drama, cliques, gossip and catty crap for 40 hours a week, you really do walk away with a lesson or two about how to fight clean, be the bigger person, and deal with having no control over the people around you.
  4. Balance: Life. Work. Commute. Car problems. Illness. Finances. There’s no HOLD button for any of those things. By having this constant movement of live, work, eat, sleep, rest, rise, I’ve learned where, when and how to insert the things that are really important to me.
  5. Microsoft Excel: Man, spreadsheets are so useful for real life stuff. I wish I was being sarcastic. Being organized makes things so much easier.

What have you learned from your day job? Any hard lessons? Convenient truths? Helpful computer programs?

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How to Have a Day Job/House/Life/Everything in 3 Lessons

Hi. Hello. Yes, yes, we’re here. We’re alive. We are in THE HOUSE. I’m sorry you all were left under radio silence for a while. Getting the technologies to coexist in the titanium dome that is obviously hiding in the attic has proven difficult.

How are you?

Owning a house – I almost wrote possessing, but that didn’t exactly feel right – is unlike anything I could have thought it to be. The first time something went wrong, I stormed up to my husband and asked, “We should call them back and tell them that we didn’t sign up for this shit!”

“Tell who what?”

“Everyone! Everyone else should fix this! I don’t want to fix this! Do you?”

And that was when my husband walked away. Not really, but he told me that there was no one to fix it. We had to fix it. Or call a plumber, electrician, carpenter, or handyman to fix it while we pay them. And I knew that. I just didn’t want to.

Lesson 1: There’s no one to place blame on, or ask to take up the burden. You only have yourself to rely on.

We were scrambling with the last of the detritus and flim-flam of our old residence. We had just barely gotten everything out the last day, in the last hour. Suddenly, faced with the closed, locked door, I started choking.

“Are you okay?”

“This is it,” I said. “This is it. Like…it’s happening right now.”

He headed down the stairs, and slowly I followed. There was no last big hurrah, no ridiculous Polaroid. Nothing. Except the ting of a key at the bottom of the mailbox and salty, stingy tears from the driver’s seat.

Lesson 2: Make the memories while the thing is happening. They will hold on longer than last hurrahs.

I’m sitting in the eating nook adjacent to the kitchen. It has been cleared of most boxes, and I can look out over the table to the rats that are playing in the cage against the window. I can watch as little birds eat the neighbor’s wild grapes.

In the corner of my eye is a black and white animal. Despite our keeping the gate closed to the back yard, the checkered Maine Coon is utterly undeterred. It pauses momentarily, giving the metal obstruction barely more than a measured look, before squeezing under it. It doesn’t even run. It saunters to the next gate and is gone.

Lesson 3: Life is full of wonder. Just wait. You’ll see.

Writing About Buying a House About Writing

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Recently, life has been a lot about breathing.

Stopping and taking long, deep inhalations. Drawing out heavy, whooshing exhalations. Saying, “Yes, I will freak out for this few seconds, and then I’m going to get back to work.”

My husband and I are buying a house. They tell you about the money part of it, how you need to have cash that will sing, that will tell people, “How about this guy? She is ready for this piece of property to be hers.” What they don’t tell you, though, is how much time you need.

How did people buy houses before smartphones and text messaging? Did people have to actually spend as many hours as I have just in text dialogues alone stepping away from their lives to get all this down? I have thanked a lucky star every time I’ve been able to sign a document electronically because if I had to actually go somewhere and do it in person every time I would have already lost my mind.

Getting overwhelmed has been easy. Casting one eye across a home that has been my hidey-hole, my magpie nest, my asylum for eight years…I can’t even believe how much can be accrued in that long. But here it all is. And it needs to be processed, looked at, decided upon, weighed, judged, tossed, packed, rehomed.

And I have to stop, take one of those breaths, and say, “Just one box. One box at a time.” And that’s made it easier.

When taking up a writing project, it’s easy to only see the sprawling expanse of words, letters, and keys. You start to go cross-eyed considering how many paragraphs are going to go into it, how much time it’s going to take just to get through a chapter, let alone a whole damn part of the thing. How are you going to get all the stuff that’s mashed into your brain compartmentalized enough to get on paper? You start reconsidering your life’s journey. Maybe information technology should have been your major.

Stop.

Don’t do that to yourself.

You can’t pack an entire house in the blink of an eye. And you can’t write a book in one sitting. You are both the person eating the elephant and the elephant itself. Take one bite at a time. You’ll be okay.

You are the king of time. Rule.

May Haikus: 6-10

Happy Mothers Day! #10 is for moms, but especially mine.

6:
After my hair grays,
And autonomy goes dark,
Send a robot bod.

7:
Big light, groggy start.
A touch of panic sets in.
Dude, don’t stress me out.

8:
Sweet relief, pay day,
Though reckoning is at hand:
Bills, a grown-up waste.

9:
The sun glowers down.
Hateful thing because it knows
My words make us cool.

10:
I thank Mom for this,
A life that knows no limit,
Full of adventure.

Everybody’s Free (To Freak Out in Their Twenties)

One of my favorite things to listen to when I was high school was “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen).” Not only did I find the voice of Lee Perry extremely soothing, and not only did it sample music from Romeo + Juliet, which I thought was the pinnacle of artistic cinema, BUT even at that young age I found myself nodding and going, “Yeah, man, you get it.”

I listened to it before I sat down to write this post. I realized that even though I liked to think at that age that I was an “old soul” who had life, love, and the world figured out…I understood the lines of that song about as much as I understood things like feminism and Ethiopian food. In an extremely distant, contextual way. Which is to say…not at all.

Why is it that right around that age – and for the next ten years – there is a chronic, infectious case of control freakatitis? Even if you were a perfectly chill teenager (haha, yeah, okay, I know) it’s like as soon as you get out on your own, you immediately hit this second, major puberty. Only this time, instead of facial hair and boobs, you get persistent anxiety and crippling inferiority!

So, in the style of Baz Luhrmann’s EF(TWS), I am going to give you my advice in 5 minutes. Everything I can write, the timer is on, I shall dispense that advice…now.

Bad jobs build character. When you get out of college, there is a good chance you may have to take a job that is not your dream (but never stop trying), that is not what you envisioned in yesteryear, and you will deal with it for a while. Maybe it will get better. Maybe not. But you’ll have the story. The experience.

Know your rights. Never let anybody tell you that you have to give more than your best. Don’t allow people – employers, friends, lovers – decide your schedule. You are your own time wizard.

Take care of your body. Floss. Take advantage of your health insurance, vision, whatever you have. Spend every penny of it. Make it count.

Never stop. Even in the face of failure and defeat and even when it feels like you are talking into an empty room, eventually people will find you. It takes years to build a fanbase/platform/forum/voice – your own personal voice – and if you just stop talking because you think nobody is listening, you’re just going to flatline.

Somewhere between sleepless nights and restful days is nirvana.

Reclaim every second of your free time. At the end of the day, when you leave that office, leave all the mess of the last 9 hours there. Envision it as a torch, and when you clock out, that torch goes in a bucket of water. It’s gone. Don’t let any of those bastards eat into your life when you’re not getting paid for it.

Get hobbies. Try everything at least once. Twice if it’s fun.

Make friends. In the office, on the street, on the way to work. Get used to talking to people. Leave your phone at home, and if you have it, call someone. Make that connection, even if it’s really really hard and not fun.

There you go. In closing, your twenties are going to be really confusing. They won’t always be as fun as they should be, and only half as much as they deserve, because it’s going to feel like you don’t have things figured out the way you thought you would. That is okay. You are okay. Relax. Meditate. Give yourself 60 seconds to get really worked up and then go read a book. Take a walk. Pet a puppy.

But trust me on the hobbies.

If you enjoyed this post and want to find out more ways to live life while getting a pay check, you should sign up for my newsletter, How to Have a Day Job.

The Name of the Game is…Just That!

I am very proud of my most recent newsletter about how to gamify your day job. And I decided, because I love you all so much, I’m going to share it here.

Want more? If you’re not on the How to Have a Day Job list and you’d like to be, click here and fix that!

rolldiceHow to Have a Day Job
On how to make the daily grind more fun, or taking a lesson from a killer puppet doll

One of my favorite Vines of all time is one that was aired on an episode of the raunchy Internet video television show, “Tosh.O.” It featured a man being menaced by a version of Jigsaw from the Saw franchise, who asked in a gravelly voice, “Would you like to play a game?”

“What game?”

“Raise this baby.”

As Jigsaw handed over the infant, the man looked properly aghast and screamed in horror. “That ain’t no game, that’s life!”

And it was really funny, but then it got me thinking: who made the decision that life couldn’t be a game? That our serious roles couldn’t just be a little more fun?

Luckily, I’m not the only one who feels that way. Gamification is on the rise. The basic definition of this is when one uses the idea or design of play in applications outside of games. So whether it’s with Fitbit, task-oriented apps like HabitRPG or making your own personal character sheet with game stats on it with Chris Hardwick, people are looking for ways to ease up on taking everything seriously.

Day jobs should be no different!

So here we go. 5 ways to make your day job more like a game and less like…well, work.

1. Bond, James Bond — How about a day as someone else? I like to pretend now and then that I am a completely different person when I go to work. Although there are certain limitations to this — you can’t really afford to take on the persona of, say, Batman, but how about Bruce Wayne? Make believe that you just have to get through the day and afterward, you’ll be off to fight crime. Or perhaps you would be Sandra Bullock from The Net, and your gateway into cyberspace has to be unlocked through a series of spreadsheets. Have fun with it!

2. Set the record straight — Of course, getting a lot done during the day is going to make people you work for happy, but what about you? Why should you care? Challenge yourself to raise your productivity by even a little bit by keeping a scorecard and giving yourself different levels of rewards. You might even keep a jar on your desk and every time you fall short, you have to put some change in. When you finally succeed at whatever task you’ve given yourself, you can use the money for a treat. Everyone loves treats.

3. Mortal combat! — Making your job more fun doesn’t mean just playing with yourself. Challenge a coworker, if you have a good rapport with one, and see who can reach a certain goal sooner. Or, if that’s not really the type of place you work, pick someone who has a particular trait that you want to take on. Maybe there’s a team lead that’s always quick to make a joke in a bad situation, and you suck at being funny. Observe them carefully and start practicing the skill. Imagine yourself becoming better, excelling beyond that person’s status (even if it’s just in your head).

4. Make my day — Choose random people to do good deeds for. Watch them scramble around trying to figure out who did this nice thing for them. I love sneaking around and doing stuff for people. I sometimes combine this with #1, and pretend that I’m the most charitable ninja ever.

5. Take it outside — Play doesn’t just have to happen at your desk. Give yourself a challenge on your commute or during your breaks and lunches. Go outside and try to find types of wildlife around your building. Take a different route home and stop somewhere you’ve never been before. Take a drive during lunch and people-watch at a local neighborhood.

Being an adult means getting to decide how to take control of your life and make it more awesome! Get out there and play!

30 by 30: Part 6

30 Things I’m Glad I Know Before I Turn 30: Part 6

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26. Being nice.

It’s the trick to getting through anything, whether it’s international travel, getting caught in a bad spot or calling customer service. I am happy to say that I am really freaking nice and I know how to not be an asshole. Hooray!

27. How to form a habit.

If I want to do something different, I know now how to adopt a change to a behavior. That used to be really hard for me. I used to just say, “Nope, I could never do that.” But it’s all in the baby steps.

28. The definition of marriage.

Life thus far with my husband has been awesome, and it’s because at some point in our relationship, we decided that we just weren’t going to listen to anyone about how to do things. Just because other people are married doesn’t mean that it’s the same in every other couple. I’ve learned how and when to break the rules, and in what cases to say, “That’s awesome you think that, but we’re doing this our way.”

29. How to get the most out of a bad situation.

Smile. Laugh. Take notes. Put the story out there asap.

30. Where adventure is.

Everywhere. Every day. If you’re willing to look for it.

Here’s to another amazing 30+ years!

30 by 30: Part 5

30 Things I’m Glad I Know Before I Turn 30: Part 5

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21. Public speaking.

Not only do I actually excel at this, I look forward to it! I love going over things with people, presenting materials, reading, whatever. It gives me a rush!

22. Persevering self awareness and self perception.

I know who I am and how I fit into the world. I am a snowflake, a butterfly, a grain of sand. I am a speck in the universe. I am stardust. It’s okay.

23. To always say yes.

Like in improv, life is a lot more interesting when you go, “Oh, wow, that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve done before so I’m going with…yes! Of course I’ll try it!” But then I also know…

24. When to say no.

Just because someone else thinks they know what I should be doing with my time doesn’t mean I’m going to agree. You think I should get rid of x, y or z in my home? You think I shouldn’t be wearing what when? Haha. No.

25. How to cook.

I buy no prefab meals from the grocery store anymore. And you know what? That feels good.

30 by 30: Part 4

30 Things I’m Glad I Know Before I Turn 30: Part 4

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16. What to do in an emergency.

I can stay surprisingly calm in these situations nowadays.

17. How to defend myself.

And not just physically. My armor is solid in every way it can be. I know who I am. Nobody can tear me down, whether it’s with words or fists.

18. How to cut myself a break.

I have spent a large part of my life acting as my worst critic, parent and stern teacher. It took a long time for me to say, “You know what, you did your best. Go take a nap already.”

19. Appropriate communication.

I used to be unable to handle confrontation. The idea of stepping up to someone and sharing my feelings in a direct manner pretty much guaranteed a panic attack. Now, after being a part of not only a day job but also a marriage, I’m pretty on top of being able to know when and how to talk about something.

20. How to handle my money.

I don’t sweat where money for something is coming from. I am comfortable with how I choose to spend my cash and I’m responsible about bills and financial commitments. I’m walking into my birthday with no credit card debt. How about them apples?

30 by 30: Part 3

30 Things I’m Glad I Know Before I Turn 30: Part 3

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11. When to ask for help.

And that there is a fine, fine line between that and being a drama queen. I’ve gotten to where I can tell someone, straight up, “I can’t do this alone.” I’m not ashamed. I’m not embarrassed. And if people try to make me feel that way when I reach out to them, that’s their bad, not mine.

12. Who my friends are.

See #11. I keep good people around, but I’m always accepting applications.

13. That I have a say in every aspect of my life.

If I don’t like something, you can bet I’m going to stop doing it. If I want to make something happen, I can get where I need to be make it happen. In fact…

14. I can do anything I want to.

And so can you.

15. Who God is to me.

Just because I don’t prescribe to a specific dogma does not mean spirituality isn’t important to me. I know what I believe, it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and I’m happy I can comfortably say that I keep in touch with that part of my soul every day.