Category Archives: ambition

Hello, world!

Hello, world!

….If anyone is still out there.

It’s been a busy, exciting, and sometimes stressful few month behind this blog. I’ve been taking an unintended, but much-needed break, and once I got into the non-momentum of not-posting, no post seemed worthy of being the first post…of the new year. After a 2….3….4….month hiatus. Or what-have-you.

But I miss the blog (I don’t miss the columns, as I never quit them, of course) and the only way to pick up again is to just do it, eh? So here we go–easing back in with some good advice from Carolyn’s chat today. She’s stated this philosophy in various forms many times, and I think it’s important, so for today will just share it with you:

You know, it’s okay to choose not to do something just because you don’t feel like it. I don’t advise making a habit of choosing this option, but if you’ve baked for the last three bake sales, for example, it’s okay to say you’re sorry, this isn’t a good time, and you’ll be happy to make something next time. And your unspoken definition of “isn’t a good time” could really, justifiably, be that you’ve been looking forward all week to sitting on your butt and watching a movie.

I see getting comfortable with the word “no” as a multi-step process, especially if you’re starting from a point where there’s a sense of personal risk attached to every “no”–as if everyone will hate you or think ill of you for letting them down. The first step is paying attention to when your feelings turn resentful–that’s the advice you’re referring to, I assume–and recognizing that’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re giving to the point of giving yourself away. Accordingly, you start to step back gently from there.

Once you get comfortable with that process, I think you’ll start to make out patterns–of things you like to give and don’t, of people you like to give to and don’t, or situations when it’s okay to extend yourself and when it isn’t. The second step is to put those patterns together: You’ll see the beginnings of an outline of who you are. You’ll see which are your healthy relationships, which are your passions, which are your vulnerabilities, and what just drains the life out of you. Seeing these clearly will help you say “yes” and “no” to things based on anticipation of how you’ll feel, instead of just reacting to how you feel in the moment. That means you’ll be able to make plans–and decline them–with a growing sense of confidence.

Sometimes you’ll mess up, sure, and overextend yourself here or blow off a worthy cause there. But even those aren’t the end of the world, they’re just life.  One lazy /selfish/entitled decision does not a lazy /selfish/entitled person make. That’s step three, fine-tuning your ability to recognize when to offer help and when to look at the ceiling and whistle and hope nobody spots you. As long as you’re at peace with the cumulative result, you’re fine.

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Strongly worded letters

Expert writers and researchers showed up in two columns today, fretting that they hadn’t been properly recognized for their efforts on behalf of others.

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Commencement: It’s just the Beginning

It seems like this woman is trying to make her daughter out to be a an entitled, takes-it-all-for-granted lazypants, unprepared for the real world.  But…I just don’t buy it.  Check it out:

Dear Amy: My daughter recently graduated from college.

My husband and I paid for all of her expenses, though she held a part-time job.

We opened a bank account for her when she was a child. We added about $10,000 to this account when she started college.

Our daughter has spent all of her savings and paychecks throughout these four years on clothes and going out with friends.

I have berated her countless times on her spending habits.

Right before she graduated, she said she’d found an apartment to live in with her two friends.

I told her NOT to sign a lease because she couldn’t afford it.

She moved home and now has a full-time job ($14 an hour) and another side job while she looks for work in her field.

Her friends took the apartment and she goes there on weekends.

She assured me that she was not on the lease.

Of course, now I find out that she is. I am livid.

I told her she needs to either get someone to sublet the apartment or go ahead and move into it, but she will not be able to keep our car or have us pay any of her expenses.

She found a bus that can get her close to work but I am worried for her safety when she gets out of work at 10 p.m. and is waiting for a bus in a dangerous neighborhood.

She wants to buy our car, but with her track record I know she will not keep up with payments.

I think she needs to see what real life is all about but if something happened to her as she waited for a bus I would never forgive myself.

Any suggestions?

—Distressed Mom

Arrgh!  “She needs to see what real life is all about”??  She has a job!  (Two jobs!) She wants to move out!  It’s the mom who keeps paying her bills and forbidding her to leave the nest.  This letter is written like a list of the daughter’s shortcomings.  But lets review:

Exhibit A: She held a part-time job, earning spending money for herself while she was in college.  The mother doesn’t say anything about her ever asking her parents to send cash, as some kids do.

As it happens, the mother doesn’t like the way her daughter spent this money, or the savings in her bank account.  And yet…the parents were covering all of her expenses, so she didn’t have any obligations.  What did the mom want?  For her daughter not to spend another cent on top of her covered expenses, out of gratitude or something?  She was earning money, and had no bills.  Of course she bought clothes and went out with friends.  Who wouldn’t?  What, exactly, was she supposed to do with her earnings?  And were these expectations made clear to her (so at least she’d know, even though I still maintain that it was her money to spend as she wanted).

Exhibit B: She graduated in four years, and is has a full-time job and a part-time job while looking for more specialized work.  How is she not experiencing the “real world,” or pulling her own weight?  It certainly doesn’t sound like she’s rolling in dough.  But as a young single woman with roommates?  ‘Sprobably enough to get by, sitting on milk crates and eating cereal.  She’s well on her way, or she could be, under different circumstances.

Exhibit C: Although she’s on the apartment lease with her roommates (and presumably has been paying rent all this time), she’s living at home.  She lied about this, and no, that’s not a good thing.  But while factors such as her access to a car, and the payment of other expenses by her parents, probably played a part in this decision, I also wouldn’t rule out her mother’s “forbidding” her to move out as a motivating factor.

I suspect she stayed home because it was easier than moving out.  Not easier than getting a job.  Not easier than finding a place to live.  Not easier than paying bills.  She’s already doing all that.  It was easier than pissing her mother off.

Exhibit D: Mom doesn’t want to sell her the car because “with her track record,” she won’t make the payments.  What track record?  According to the mom, she’s never had bills to pay at all.  The only example is the rent on the apartment she’s surreptitiously leasing–and, apparently, she’s managed to pay that rent all along.

I just don’t get it.  These parents need to stop paying her bills, and encourage her to move out.  Not because she needs a kick in the pants to become self-sufficient, but because she already is.  All she’s lacking is the backbone to stand up to her mom about it.

Compare this with the story of this mom, whose newly graduated daughter really is struggling to get her feet under her:

Dear Amy: We sent our daughter to the expensive private college of her dreams. We paid for school, so she has no loans to repay. Graduation was two months ago. Now that she is home, she will not make a serious attempt to look for work or an internship.

I forced her to volunteer for something, but it was very short term. I would be fine if she found an unpaid internship because I know the job market is not great for certain fields.

Her father seems to agree that she should be doing more, but he claims I am too hard on her (because I have pressed her to refresh her resume, make contacts, look for something to do and not sleep until noon, 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. every day). He also said we will have to wait until she is motivated.

With free room and board, Internet and a big-screen TV, she might never be motivated.

I made her go to a job workshop and a job club. They offered good suggestions and contacts, but she didn’t follow up.

Today she lied about submitting a resume, so I told her point blank that if she is not making a serious effort to find a job in her field starting now, I will find her a job at McDonald’s or in local retail.

I will also have to review her efforts and documentation each day, as if she were in kindergarten.

Hm.  These moms seem to have in common that they’ve paved the way for their kids, covered every expense and provided every opportunity along the way–and now they think that gratitude, serendipitous motivation, or the magical transformation caused by a hood and a mortarboard will somehow turn their kids into independent, self-sufficient money-making machines. And, even worse, when somehow that does happen, they can’t let go!

They complain about their kids not acting like adults, while they continue to treat them like infants.  Don’t they see the connection?

Also, maybe I’m reading too much into this, at least in the first mom’s letter, but I get a sense that, along with the hovering, there’s a lot of pressure on their kids to get not just any job, but the right job.  The mom in the second letter says she’s going to push her daughter into retail or fast food, basically, she implies, as a punishment.  No wonder her daughter is depressed, discouraged, and lying about her job prospects: she hasn’t found her dream job 2 months out of college, and is afraid of disappointing her mother.  Meanwhile, the daughter in the first letter has two jobs, and is looking for more, but still her mom is not satisfied.

It’s not clear to me what these parents want to see their kids accomplish the summer after they get out of school, but I sort of suspect that nothing will be good enough.  They’re afraid to see their kids fail, but they also don’t seem capable of letting them succeed on their own terms.  How sad.

Auto-Reply: Out of Office

Gentle readers–if any of you are still out there–

Hello, and apologies that the only thing I’ve had to offer you in over a month is a Dutch tea towel.

(Digression: how can we get this phrase to catch on?  “You’re as cute as a Dutch tea towel!” perhaps, or maybe, in another direction, “she stayed with me for a month and didn’t bring so much as a Dutch tea towel as a hostess gift.”)

It’s been a busy, exciting summer, with lots of time on the road for business and pleasure, and not so many days at home, or in the office.  In that vein, now that I’m back at work it seems appropriate to revive the blog with an ongoing issue in Dear Abby (and possibly in your very own cubicle): co-workers who don’t [appear to] work.

It started with a letter from a bitter supervisor published back on June 1:

DEAR ABBY: I’m the supervisor of a small office. One of my biggest challenges is scheduling time off for the female employees. In my day, you didn’t take a day off unless you were very sick or your child was sick. Now they seem to want time off for everything from school events, sporting events, getting their nails done, their faces waxed or tanning appointments. I am amazed at the decline in work ethic.

As I read about the unemployment in our country, I would think people would be grateful to have a well-paying job with benefits — but the recession hasn’t slowed any of our female employees down one bit. What has happened to the old-fashioned work ethic that founded this country? (Maybe it went south along with the jobs?) And by the way, Abby, I am a female. — TAKES MY JOB SERIOUSLY

Yikes.  It sounds like this woman needs…..well, a day off.  Maybe a whole batch of them.

As Abby pointed out in her reply, if these women (really?  just the women?  Do men take no time off?  Or doesn’t she supervise any?) are simply making use of the paid time off included in their compensation package, then they’re within their rights to spend that time however they want.  Their salaries take into account their not working a certain number of days each year.  They should be expected to take this time, and so, for that matter, should the supervisor.

For the sake of the rest of the post, I make this assumption–that the requested time off she’s complaining about is paid vacation/personal time. If that’s actually not the case, it’s the supervisor who needs to grab the reins and regain control of the situation–meeting with employees, reviewing policies, instituting some sort of consequences, or just saying no.  But if employees want their own vacation days, and their boss resents it–well, now we’ve got something to talk about.  And so we shall.

Reader responses to this letter ran today, and varied widely.  Bits’n’pieces below:

I understand the frustration of “Takes My Job Seriously” (June 1), the supervisor who complained about her female employees requesting time off for kids’ school and sports events or beauty appointments. Over the last few years I have noticed a decline in work ethic across the board.

Phone calls go unreturned, workers stand around idle and errors are made on important forms. People seem to do the minimum necessary to make it to the end of the day, and supervisors aren’t much different — they allow this behavior. Years ago, people worked hard for their money. Now they hardly work.

[Grrrr….taking earned time off is not even a little bit the same as slacking off while on the clock]

“TMJS” fails to take into consideration the evolution of the work force. Not only are there more women working now, but we usually work far beyond the regular 9-to-5 grind. As a single mom, I need flexibility in my schedule to get everything done that’s demanded of me at work and at home. I take my laptop home every night and work after my son goes to sleep.  “TMJS” may feel superior because I’m not in the office as much as she is, but I’ll bet I work more hours per week. Technology now allows us the flexibility of choice.

[This is a really important point for folks peering over the cubicle wall and rolling their eyes at their colleagues’ empty chairs.  But it’s not something that should go unspoken between supervisors and employees.  If folks are leaving the office without officially taking time off because they intend to make up the hours remotely–well, a supervisor should sure be aware of and OK with the arrangement]

I supervise several younger women. Studies have shown that while these employees want to do a good job, they find it equally important to have “work/life” balance. I actually think they are smarter than we are. We tend to overwork and feel guilty if we take a day for ourselves. If they take the time they have earned and use it for what they enjoy — good for them.

[hear, hear!]

“TMJS” must have entered the work force when companies still took care of loyal, longtime employees by providing good benefits and job security. It paid to go the extra mile for your employer because you knew your company would return the favor when needed.

In recent years this has changed. Workers today realize that sacrificing their personal life for their professional one does not necessarily reap any benefits.

[another interesting point.  I’d venture–though with absolutely no evidence–that most young professionals entering the workforce today have no intention of staying at their first job more than five years.  It’s simply not a given that the job will even be available that long, for one thing. But there also may be no guarantee of regular advancement, promotion, or raises.  Moving forward in their career will most likely mean changing jobs.  Of course, this sword cuts both ways: why should employers offer long term benefits like, say, retirement matching, to employees that they only expect to have around for a couple of years?]

Although I’m a little annoyed with “TMJS” myself right now, I wonder if there may be practical ways she can improve the situation in her office, so that employees can take the time off they’re entitled to, and she doesn’t feel left in the lurch.  Her real problem seems to be, as she says, with scheduling people’s time off.  She’s frustrated by this, and turns her resentment back onto them and their personal choices.

As the supervisor,  she could set some policies–perhaps time off must be requested a month in advance, or no more than two employees may take vacation in the same week.  Maybe working remotely isn’t allowed, or must be logged/accounted for in a precise way.  Maybe vacation can only be taken in increments of days or half days, reducing the likelihood of odd hours-that-creep-to-three-hours personal errands.  She’s lucky to be in a position to institute or propose some changes–perhaps creative ones–to place reasonable limitations on her employees’ flitting about.

Her supervisees are entitled to their vacation time.  They’re entitled to use that time how they wish, and this shouldn’t impact their boss’s opinion of them.  But they’re not necessarily entitled to take it without notice, whenever they feel like it. Finding the right balance here might save everyone’s sanity.  And I hope, while she’s at it, this woman takes a vacation.

How about you–do you feel guilty when you take a day off of work?  Does your boss make it hard for you to do so?  How do you account for personal errands during the workday?

Do you find yourself working from home in the evenings or on vacation and why?  Is is fear, passion, boundary issues, or some combination of all three?

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play the SEO game?

It simultaneously irks and intrigues me that Margo comes up above Prudie in a Google search for “Dear Prudence.”  (Both beat out the Beatles, BTW).

Full disclosure: Margo once was Dear Prudence, before Emily Yoffe, who now holds the spot.  But she’s not now–and furthermore, it’s not even mentioned in her mini-bio.  And are are more people really linking to http://www.creators.com/ than to http://www.slate.com/?  Really?

So bewildering.

Then again, these Google’s results are, by default, personalized now.  Admittedly, I go to Margo’s column more often than I do to Prudie’s–she publishes more frequently.  But I never go there when I’m searching for Prudie.  So what gives?

On Getting Over Ourselves…..

Clearly it’s a Carolyn love-fest! This letter/chat topic is old (from 2003) but too good, and too important, I think, to pass up. I sort of want to scorn this person for being so crazed, but I can’t, because s/he is nothing more than an exaggerated version of myself. I’m not “disgusted” with my life, nor am I “berating” myself, but still…the shoe fits, kind of. Graduation is in 4 weeks and suddenly we’re all sort of panicking about what comes next. What if I don’t achieve all the things I thought I would? What if I fail everyone by living a perfectly pleasant, decent, mediocre life, belying my Illinois Wesleyan/University of Michigan/Welzenbach/English honor society heritage of excellence???? Oh the horrors!

Carolyn’s advice makes me feel like it’s ok to sit and take a breath and look around, be thankful, happy, and content–even if it means I (we all) stop trying so hard for five minutes. Ahhhh.

Somewhere in Northern Virginia: Hi Carolyn! I’m an avid reader of your column, but I’ve always been afraid to submit a question–until now–and only because I’m at such a total loss. Over the past six months, I’ve been feeling completely and utterly disgusted about my life. Essentially, I have always been very driven and ambitious, usually just to appear “together” and perfect. I’m almost 24. I’ve held a lot of glamour jobs, but I’ve yet to find something I’m truly passionate about. I keep berating myself for not having achieved enough. For instance, I promised myself I’d write my first novel by 21. Haven’t done it. I think about this constantly and beat myself up over it. I have a job at a well-respected media outlet, which people always think is awesome, but I feel stuck in a rut and I’m not making the most of the experience. I’ve lost all motivation, and I feel totally confused. My friends are off applying to grad schools and getting promotions, and I feel stagnant. Moreover, lately I have been taking this out on my boyfriend: I’ve been trying to run his life (researching grad school options for him, etc.) instead of focusing on mine, which I feel is a total mess. I was always proud of myself up until recently, and I have no clue how to emerge from this. Sorry for the long post, but I do hope you can get to it today online. Thanks so much.

Carolyn Hax: Afraid I’ll bite you? Just don’t be completely self-absorbed, and I won’t.

Actually, you’re cutting the self-absorbed thing a little close with your quest for the -est (smartest, brightest, richest, successfulest), but we’ll call it appearance absorption and give it a pass, since you’re only hurting yourself. In fact, I think your disgust should be redirected toward that–your need to flog yourself for absolutely no reason. Repeat, absolutely no reason.

You are not even 24. Some people don’t find their passions till they’re 60. Some people never find them, and eke out pretty decent lives for themselves. They work hard, at whatever, as long as it’s toward the greater good, and they pay their taxes, and they’re nice to the people who love them, and they take pleasure in whatever small things they take pleasure in.

So my advice is to relax, work hard at whatever you work at, and love the people who love you, and seek out some pleasure in life.

And if you can’t put yourself into that mold because you think you’re too good for it, then I will bite you.

I’m not surprised that many of us find our way INTO these positions….17-20 years of pushing, pushing, pushing at school, sports, drama, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, etc. can lead us to believe that if we’re not always striving to be faster, better, fastest, best, that we’re somehow selling ourselves short and failing everyone who ever believed in us. But if we don’t find a way OUT of this thinking, we’re only punishing ourselves. A roof over the head? Food on the table? Loving relationships? A sunny day? A cat wending its way between your feet? A good book? Your health, that of your family? It’s easy to forget how valuable these things are. Life is good. Life goes on. Thank God.

Play It Again Sports

I typically haven’t extended one issue beyond a single blog post with (at most) an update in light of new information. But clearly I had a lot to say about sports, quitting them, and the effect this has on the participants, and the topic just won’t go away! Yesterday a single dad wrote in to Abby expressing concern that his son has totally lost touch with reality due to his success in sports and the way this has shaped his perception of himself:

DEAR ABBY: My youngest son, “Trent,” is 17. At a very early age it became apparent that he was a gifted athlete. Years of stellar performance in baseball and other sports have elevated him to a high social status — and it has created a rift between us.

Trent has become unmanageable. He regards my influence, direction and discipline to be nothing more than a daily hindrance. Somewhere in the sports mania, I lost control as a father.

As his only parent (and support), I wonder how many other parents are really aware of the crushing burden and peer pressure these young people experience in the quest for athletic perfection. I have and always will support my son’s goals, but I see a disassociation with reality while he revels in his status. A college scholarship is a given.

Is my issue unique? Do you have any advice for me? — SPORTS DAD DOWN SOUTH

My question is, back to the issue I was addressing the other day, who got “Trent” into sports in the first place? Who made sure he was on the right teams and had the right specialized training to always give a “stellar” performance? Has “Trent” really changed, or have the circumstances simply changed, and now he’s calling the shots (as it were) instead of Dad, while baseball (and other sports) remain the core of the family as they always have? Has Trent really been shaped by “peer pressure”? Or parental pressure? As a parent you can’t argue that a child has “somehow” been intensely and obsessively involved in any activity without considering who paid for the lessons, who did the driving, and who set the tone for wins, losses, success and failure in the household.

Abby’s response focuses on the dad’s need to gradually trust and let go–as any parent must of any child leaving the nest–and hope that the values and skills he imparted to his son will serve him well as an adult:

…There comes a point when parents have to start trusting that the values they have instilled in their offspring are deeply rooted enough to guide them in the right direction in the coming years. You cannot supervise and influence your son much more than you already have. So my advice is to keep the lines of communication open and to start letting go. Life will teach him lessons that will bring him back down to earth eventually…

She avoids the sports issue completely, which is probably more objective and more to the point, addressing the real crux of his trouble. I just can’t help but feel that the dad wants to be screaming, “I’ve created a monster!”…only he’s unwilling to take the responsibility for it. You can’t blame athletic prowess for creating a rift between you and your son–plenty of gifted athletes love and respect and are close to their parents. Intense sports may add pressure for both of you–but that means you can’t just blame him, or the sports and not examine your own role. This didn’t just “happen.” Everyone has a part to play.