Thoughtful Thursday: Thanks

November 25, 2010

Thoughtful ThursdayIn honor of American Thanksgiving, let’s talk about thanks. Not the things we’re thankful for, which are discussed plenty by most of us on this day. Instead, we’ll talk about the thanks that we should have given someone, but which for whatever reason we never communicated.

As I detailed over a year ago in my birth story, the attending OB who delivered Burrito and Tamale did an amazing job dealing with my massive hemorrhage due to placenta accreta. A lesser surgeon would definitely have lost me my uterus, and quite possibly my life, but he saved both.

I actually did verbally thank the doctor at the time.

With all the genuineness I could convey, as they were wheeling me to recovery, I told the doctor, “Thank you so much.” Thank you for saving an organ that I probably have no use for but would have missed, thank you for doing such an incredible job, thank you for saving my life.

But, I never saw him again after that, and I never sought him out to thank him more formally. Saving someone’s life feels like it deserves more than a verbal thanks. Letter, balloons, skywriting, something.

I’ve written thank you notes to friends of friends who’ve given the twins the dinkiest of gifts, but I never thanked the doctor who saved my life and my (theoretical) fertility.

And so, this year I’ll send him a holiday card depicting the babies who have grown so much since he last saw them, along with a proper hand-written thank you note.

Who should you have thanked but never did? What’s stopping you?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thoughtful Thursday: Weakness

November 11, 2010

Thoughtful ThursdayYou know during a job interview when they ask you about your strengths and weaknesses? I can’t tell them the truth.

Sure, I can tell them about my strengths, both innate and learned.

But the weaknesses? Not so easy.

The old standby not-really-a-weakness of perfectionism is true of me, for sure, as is the not-really-a-weakness of workaholism. Together, they lead to an odd combination of working lots yet not getting enough done — I’m not so quick to admit to that.

Then there’s my inability to delegate, which is related to the perfectionism and the workaholism. I don’t know how to let go and trust other people to do stuff; when I do, they usually disappoint me and I have to fix it, so I often end up doing everything myself, even things that are a poor use of my time. I mean, I’ve had people screw up the simplest possible tasks. Like photocopying. More times that I can count, someone has photocopied wrong, and it’s ruined my work from mildly to majorly. How do you mess up with photocopying? Leave pages out, mix double- with single-sided, cut off portions of each page, get pages out of order, photocopy the same page twice, do some upside down… How hard is it to push a big green button? Very hard, apparently. Not that I’ve never made an error at the photocopier, but here’s the difference — I discover the error before it’s replicated thousands of times. Anyway.

The inability to delegate is one weakness that I give in the job interviews. The other is that I am too helpful, so helpful that I spend time helping others at the expense of my own productivity. That is also a weakness that isn’t entirely a weakness, but it is absolutely true.

The weakness I don’t tell them about? My poor interpersonal skills.

In actuality, my interpersonal skills are fine. I’m wholly agreeable, and as mentioned above, extremely helpful as a colleague. I am kind and interesting and full of integrity. My problem is that I’m bad at pointless pleasantries and fake warmth.

At some jobs, I have been able to muster my sociable side and join everyone for water cooler talk by day and happy hour by night. At other jobs, I’ve just wanted to do my damn work. I’m typically matter-of-fact, pleasant but not chatty. By walking away after 5 minutes, I’ve befuddled colleagues who literally expected to spend hours a day standing in the hall, gabbing away.

My bigger problem isn’t the time spent talking; it’s the effusiveness that I lack. My smile isn’t big; that’s just the way my mouth is shaped. My voice isn’t usually loud, my gestures aren’t exaggerated, my emotions aren’t written all over my face; this is just how I’m wired. I’ve been described as “Mona Lisa,” “cards close to the chest,” and “someone I’d never want to play poker with.”

A few months ago, I was one of three final candidates for a job. I did not get that job. It’s a fairly small industry so I know of the person who did get the job– I’ve never worked with her or met her in person and have only emailed with her, but multiple people I know have worked closely with her in different jobs over the years. I tell you with all humility that I would be better at the job than she would. But, she is fake-warm, the kind of person who touches your shoulder while laughing uproariously at your jokes, then after half an hour of pretending to be your best friend, walks back to her office without having invited you to her birthday party. As for her ability, she is universally described as “fine.” Not spectacular, just fine. No surprises. No red flags but no gold stars.

Sometimes, I can muster my best interpersonal skills for an interview. Sometimes I am delightful. That particular interview was not one of those days. I’d stayed up most of the night preparing and slept only 3 hours. I focused too much on content and not enough on delivery. I forgot that some people want to hire the most talented person, but most people want to hire the person that they most want to work with (and hang out with) for the next 2 to 40 years. I would have been better off half-preparing and sleeping all night, so as to give myself enough energy to fake it.

To a natural introvert like myself, it is one of the bullshittiest principles of this world that pretending to be warm trumps actually being great at what you do.

DH rocks in interviews. He also has the skill to back it up, but he really wows them during interviews. My dad makes incredible first impressions. My mother is gregarious and charming. Hell, even my babies are friendlier than I am. For the record, I can deliver a kick-ass speech to 5 people or 500, and once we get started people love working with me. It’s just that interview room with 1 or 2 where I really get tripped up. It’s not that I’m nervous; I am too genuine to pretend to be warm to strangers.

I’m torn about whether to try to put on the show to win people over in the next interview to come along, or just be myself. Collegial and pleasant, but not anyone’s new best friend. As much as I value genuineness, I’m concerned that being myself is a ticket straight to the poorhouse. The highly educated, supremely capable poorhouse.

In the job interview sense, what’s your “weakness”? What is your actual weakness?

Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to the November Intelligentsia, the people who commented on every Thoughtful Thursday post for the month of October.

#21: Wiseguy from Woman Anyone?
#14: Lost In Translation from We Say IVF, They Say FIV
#13: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#12: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#8: Rebecca from Northern Grin
#6: Cat
#5: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde

Thoughtful ThursdayRemember how I had made up my mind to move to my mother’s city? Apparently, the universe may have other plans. I’d applied for a job before my mom got sick, then put it out of my mind, but I have been shortlisted. During my preliminary interview, I learned that the job is so much better than I imagined. I may or may not be about to receive an offer for my dream job, 2500 miles from my mother’s city. If I don’t get the offer, this is all moot, but if I do get the offer, I have a lot of thinking to do.

Relative benefits of each city:
Quality of life: Mom’s city destroys Dream Job city in terms of quality of life. Weather, crime, amenities, toddler-friendliness, attitude, people, lifestyle.

Family: Mom’s city means that I can take an active role in helping her, medically and personally, and that she’d get to see her grandchildren more than a couple of times a year. Dream Job city means I’m no better off than I am right now, struggling to do things from afar but mostly spinning my wheels and occasionally flying out for emergencies.

Friends: Don’t really have friends in either city. Come to think of it, we barely have friends in the current city. We do have friends elsewhere, promise.

My career: Dream Job city isn’t called Dream Job city for nothing. Mom’s city might be fine, or it might be kind of bad for my career, or most likely it would be fine eventually but not for the first half-year or year.

Finances: Dream Job city has a lower cost of living plus my salary would be substantially higher.

DH: He would much, much rather live in Mom’s city, no question. Even if my mom didn’t live there he’d be thrilled to live there. In terms of his career, Mom’s city could be neutral — the same situation as now — or possibly outstanding for him. Dream Job city would be neutral.

It’s this last point that trips me up the most. DH has been very supportive of my career and incredibly tolerant of having made several major geographic moves on my behalf. Most, but not all, of these moves have been to cities where he’s been happy to live. Though the first move when we got married involved a major drop in prestige and a 50% pay cut, most of our moves have ended up working out very well for him, both career- and life-wise.

If DH were the one to get a dream job offer, we’d likely orchestrate our lives around that. But, although he is wonderfully successful on many counts, no one has yet asked him to move to a specific place for a specific dream job. There have been times that we’ve both been on the market, and if there had been competing offers in competing cities, we would have had to figure something out — but it’s never come to that, at least not yet. It’s been gratifying in a way to be the one whose career has driven our life decisions, and I’m not sure how I’d handle putting my career on the back burner for his. I don’t think that’s what I signed up for. I don’t think that’s what he signed up for either. I started out as The Ambitious One, then The Accomplished One, but meanwhile he turned out to be The Successful One. Somehow, we are both The Supportive One.

As I have pursued my goals through the years, he’s had substantial input into location. He has definitely had geographic veto power, so much so that there are many positions I never pursued in the first place because I knew he didn’t want to move there. This time around, if I do get the dream job offer, it’s in a place that DH totally doesn’t want to live — and, the move might be permanent. We could be in crappy Dream Job city for the rest of our lives. The family issues are tripping me up as well, but the main sticking point is that I don’t know if I can make my husband move somewhere he doesn’t want to live instead of a place he desperately wants to live, even if it’s the best decision for us collectively. Does a +10 for me outweigh a -5 for him? What if his -5 becomes -20 but we’re stuck there? What if my +10 isn’t a +10 after all? Or will his -5 become a +5 like it usually does? Do we scrap all of the career concerns in favor of quality of life? Is Dream Job city really that bad? Can Mom’s city possibly live up to our imaginations of it?

We’ll see. It may very well not be up to me anyway. Either way is good; either I get my dream job, or we live in a city that makes us all terrifically happy and I am able to help my mother. This is the good kind of conundrum. Stay tuned.

In your own life, how do you balance competing careers, different goals, and varied interests?