What’s the difference between the herd of cows in the slaughter shoot and the herd of frequent flyers boarding a plane? There is none. (This is not a joke.) The chaos of the kindergarten classroom after recess is less stressful than the whiny business-casual crowd elbowing and shoving, me first, I have status! No chivalry here, all are equally more important than any other person there. I need room for my super-important bag, I need room for my super-important laptop with my super-important spreadsheet – don’t you dare lean that seat back, I’ll call the flight attendant and tell on you!
This morning, I read two articles on Fast Company that seemed to contradict each other. The first was about some internet guru lady who says that big companies better look out because working Millennials won’t be motivated by money, instead, they’ll be looking for ‘meaningful’ employment.
The second article said, big companies are trying to motivate their employees to work crazy long hours, near 80 hours a week, by paying them lots of money, because paying one person to work 80 hours is cheaper (because of things like taxes and benefits) than paying two people to work 40 hours a week.
If the writers of the two articles had talked to each other – the advice they might give to big corporations is to pack their jobs with ‘meaning’ and they can hire four Millennials for the price of one Gen-Xer. Now, that might mean they’ll have to deal with the Millennial’s mothers calling the boss anytime the millennial came home with a poor grade, oh I mean bad review, but that’s the trade-off for saving money.
A woman I know (late thirties – so NOT a Millennial) recently left a job because her boss, although continuously complimentary of her skill and efficiency, complained about her lack of ‘passionate commitment’ to the company because she refused to work more than 50 hours a week. He wanted her to ‘realign her priorities.’ Her priorities are currently aligned with her husband and her small child, for shame! After a year of enduring the dirty looks of her co-workers every time she left the office before 6 pm to pick up her son from after-school-care, she finally told the boss to take his job and shove it.
Why do I feel like we’re going backwards? Didn’t that boss ever see the movie ‘9 to 5?’ What happened to the ideal of the 40 hour work week? Wasn’t that something people fought for a hundred years ago?
Those people actually had jobs that meant something. Back in the early part of the last century everybody made things, tangible things. White and Blue collar alike could explain their jobs in tangible terms. Everyone worked so that they could go home after an eight hour day and spend time with their family and friends, enjoying the food and shelter bought with the money they earned.
Isn’t that the point? Isn’t the point of a job to make the money you need to live? And isn’t life defined by the moments you spend with the people you love and the experiences you have away from work?
Oh sure, there is this fantasy we’ve all been promoting for that last few decades that we should all ‘love’ our work. This is garbage. In fact garbage is a great example of why this is garbage.
We’ve all been told ‘the world needs ditch-diggers too.’ It took me a long time to realize that statement wasn’t just about people who literally dug ditches. It was about the people who maintain the civilization we take for granted. The pothole fillers and the utility pole climbers and the garbage collectors.
If all those people suddenly quit and started doing jobs they ‘loved’ or felt ‘passionate’ about, a lot of garbage would start piling up in front of your house.
I was out for a walk the other day and as I crossed a narrow side street, I could see a line of cars trapped behind a garbage truck. Not all, but a few of the stuck drivers were leaning on their horns. They’d been doing so for so long, that the garbage men were stubbornly taking even longer to do their work. I’m guessing, but there was a lot of hand, no, full arm gesturing going on, so it’s probably a good guess.
As I walked (quickly) beyond the scene, a man sitting at a table outside a bar on the main street asked me what the commotion was about. I said, “Some idiots are honking at the garbage men.”
The late 20ish man, dressed in ‘casual Friday’ khakis and button down shirt, enjoying his lunchtime PBR, said to me, “You know they get paid by the hour, right?”
I’m not good with witty comebacks. I just waved a disdainful hand in his face and walked on by.
I wish I’d said, “If they’re paid so much, why aren’t you doing that job?” OR “Whatever they are getting paid, it is not nearly enough for the service they provide.” OR “And how exactly are you are deserving of your six figure salary by sitting here at noon on a Friday enjoying your liquid lunch?”
If we paid everyone based on how meaningful their jobs are, and I mean meaningful as in full of tangible meaning, not some sort of twist on the word ‘fun,’ garbage collectors and utility workers and ditch diggers would be the billionaires.
Take that one step further, get rid of all the jobs that don’t have any tangible meaning, and all of a sudden, that guy sitting outside the bar is unemployed. And all the idiots honking at the garbage collectors all disappear because they can’t afford to buy the cars they were driving.
I think it would be lovely if all the Millennials actually meant ‘full of meaning’ instead of ‘full of fun’ when they say they want meaningful employment. The world would be better for it. But on the other hand, I’ll be the old lady living off the social security funds that they’ll be paying into. So, screw that, meaning and family is overrated, go, work your 80 hours a week and pay for my trips to Atlantic City, if that is still a thing in forty years.
I’ve decided, after many hours of careful contemplation, that I do not like the word ‘success’ and will attempt to avoid, after the completion of this essay, any further use of it in my writing and speaking.
My reasons for this exsection are as follows:
First, while the word’s antonym is definitive which implies a simplicity to its definition, we do not use the word ‘success’ in such a simple way. To explain, the word ‘good’ is easily defined by comparison to its antonym, ‘bad.’ Good and bad are such non-complex words, children learn them along with ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’ To be good implies something is ‘not-bad.’ To succeed is to ‘not-fail.’ Just as you can not help but use the word bad to help understand something good, you must use the word fail to understand success.
However, we use this seemingly simple word with massive amounts of complexity, with weighty contextuality. Compare the following sentences:
She is the successful mother of two charming and intelligent children.
He is the successful CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation.
Those two statements, when combined, or worse, compared, are enough to raise the voices and collective blood-pressure at any social gathering. They feed the pundits of the world with contrasting thoughts of ‘equality’ and ‘feminism’ who then spew their outraged opinions across the media outlets of the world.
One simple word with so much baggage.
My second problem with the word is in its implied singularity. While people can be good at many, many things, when we attempt to narrow down all they’ve done to one ‘success,’ we pick whatever we feel to be the biggest or most important achievement. Again, referring those two sentences above, the use of the word ‘successful’ implies that it is the only thing those people have done. The word denies the woman’s profitable art gallery showings as well as the man’s impressive collection of 1940’s comic-books, the aspects of their lives each is the most proud of, and worked the hardest to achieve.
You’ll notice, I hope, a certain word that I used twice in that last paragraph. The word ‘achieve.’ This is the word I plan to use from now on to supplant ‘success.’ Achieve has no definitive antonym. ‘Fail’ can be used in some contexts, but only where the goal is singular. For instance, one may fail to achieve the summit of a mountain. But even that example can be tempered in that the attempt itself was an achievement.
In the video gaming world, part of playing is winning (which involves ending the game), but another part – a more important part – is gathering the achievements along the way. Similar to the way the boy and girl-scouts earn merit badges. As they obtain a new skill, they sew a patch onto a sash for all the world to see. And what impresses the world is not the content of each individual badge, but the number of badges on the sash. Same in the gaming world. While each achievement represents a skill gained, or a puzzle solved or a monster slain, it is the total number of achievements that the player is proud of.
And to return, one last time, to the two people mentioned above, let me close with an image of the achievements adorning the sash of each. His has a CEO badge and badges for each level of comic-book collecting he has achieved. There is a badge there for ten years marriage, and one for the first purchase of a car. Her sash holds achievement badges for the births of each of her children, for each painting she’s completed and sold, for ten years of marriage and one for the first purchase of a house. With each life covered in achievements, versus defined by a single success, no comparison is possible.
And so we part, success and I. Goodbye limited, narrow-minded word, I’ll stick with my achievements from now on, and my life will be the fuller for it.
Some of the spilled wine flows under my glass and forms a circle. I probably shouldn’t have poured this last glass. I’ve had enough already. But the men have left an uncomfortable silence in their wake, and I’ve given up trying to fill it with words so I’ll try wine instead.
It’s the way you don’t look at me. It’s the way your eyes glaze over when we are sitting together, just the two of us, and I’m telling you about something I read. It’s the way you put so little effort into answering my questions about you or your work. It’s the way you look over my left shoulder, then over my right, like there is a tennis match projected on the wall behind me. It’s the way you lost your smile the moment the men left the table.
Maybe if I were male, this wouldn’t be happening, although I’m not talking about recent trends in lip gloss shades, or the latest improvements in curling iron technology. I was talking about an interesting article I found online. I didn’t sprinkle my conversation with references to our monthly visitors, or to the horror of uterine cramping as seasoning to my thoughts on internet-based learning.
I’m not pretending to be interested in you or your work. I really do want to know. When the men sat between us only moments ago, you had us all laughing with tales of the yearly team-building event you attended last week. I have ears just like they do, and veins full of blood and alcohol too. I can listen and laugh just as well as them. I swear.
But no, you don’t want to talk to me, and you don’t want to listen. I don’t know why and I don’t know how to fix the problem. So we sit and wait while the men laugh outside with their cigars.
You stare at the walls and I move my wine glass a bit to the left, adding another circle to the pattern on the table.
I stay in a lot of hotels. Mostly nice ones. For an average of three nights per trip. I am very, very aware of the effort made to keep my room clean. I also have a pretty good imagination. On the list of all the jobs I could ever want to have, cleaning hotel rooms is not there. The only thing worse I can think of would be working in a hospital. Or teaching high-school.
Anyway, I get paid a lot, and the housekeeping staff get paid crap. They clean up other people’s grossness and they get half minimum wage (http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm) just like the wait staff in a restaurant. They make my room a clean, comfortable place to collapse in after 14 hours hunched over a computer in a frigid ballroom. The very least I can do is pick my clothes up off the floor, wipe the hair out of the sink and leave a tiny bit of cash on the dresser.
So, I tip five dollars a day, every day that they clean my room. (I hang the do-not-disturb sign every other day when it is a long stay. I imagine the next best thing to an extra five bucks in your pocket is not having to clean a room at all.) I also leave a note – nothing fancy, just a simple, “For the housekeeper, Thank You!” Just so that it is clear. And I leave the money every day because I don’t know if the person cleaning my room at the end of the stay is the person who cleaned the rest of the time.
Why am I sharing my hotel-tipping practices? Simple. Because I think the world would be a better place if everyone tipped more.
And that is all I have to say about that.
If you will indulge me…. I’d like to share my reply to a comment I read on another blog. The blog belongs to John Scalzi, the guy who wrote the book Redshirts (which I loved.) In this particular post, he shared a video of a song by the Doubleclicks about internet trolls. You should listen to the song – the lyrics are funny and poignant and smart.
The comment that bothered me:
The one time I was accused of being an internet troll, I thought I was being constructive, but the members of the “group”–nerdfighers–thought I wasn’t. So I stopped watching vlogbrothers videos, unsubscribed from John Green’s blog, and never looked back. By the way, I really don’t like the song–she’s cute, sings well, it’s okay–but the lyrics? Nope. Don’t like ‘em. Not that it matters. The way I handle comments now is that I never look at them again, so if someone thinks it’s trolling to say you don’t like something, well, I’ll never see your replies. (by someone named Jude with no links to anything he himself has created)
This is what wrote:
It’s not that you aren’t allowed to dislike something – that isn’t why people hate trolls. People hate trolls for the same reason your mother told you: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As they say in the song. What is the purpose of saying you don’t like something? What are you trying to convey? A negative opinion is worth exactly the same as no opinion, which is nothing.
Constructive criticism looks like this. “Wow, your voice is great. I didn’t really like the song, I’m not sure the lyrics are all that relevant to my life, but that’s ok, I know you weren’t writing it just for me. Keep up the great work. It is awesome that you have the talent to create and the guts to put it up there for all to see.”
My solution to the troll problem: Only people who also create are allowed to comment on other’s creations.
Here is what else I might have said…
Hey Jude, I think for your own sanity, you really ought to unplug yourself from social media. We, the active participants in social media, the bloggers, the writers, the singers, the actors, we don’t need your ‘constructive’ criticism. Really. I’m sorry if you truly meant to be helpful, but it isn’t helping. It’s just hurting. So, just turn off your computer and go away.
Better yet – go create something. Write a song, with better lyrics of course. Or write a blog post – a careful dissection of the lyrics explaining exactly why you didn’t like them, and how they could be better, or a post on how trolls are helpful to social media. Make some art and post it on tumblr or behance. Create something, anything, and it will stop you from hating the people who create. Because then you will be one of us. A part of the Creators Club. Our work isn’t the greatest, but we put a lot of effort and love into it, and we are awfully proud of it. You can do it. Everyone can do it. And when we are all creators, then no one has to be a troll.
Here is what I didn’t say because I didn’t want to be a troll…
You mean to say the ‘one time’ you get slammed with negative comments, you gave up and walked away from all Nerdfighteria? Well then, that tells me two things, one – you didn’t belong there in the first place and two – if the negative comments on your comment hurt your feelings so badly – I would think the song should resonate with you more than any one!
“she’s cute” Really?!?!?!? – how does that have anything to do with the song? ARG!
- Love Song for Internet Trolls (boingboing.net)
I know you were here, you left the evidence all over the kitchen counter, you disgusting creature. You ignore the treats I leave out for you and feast instead on some invisible spot of grease I neglected to scrub away.
I can’t clean anymore. My hands are shriveled prunes. The smell of bleach is overwhelming but it doesn’t seem to bother your supposedly sensitive nose in the slightest.
Your twitching whiskers mock me. Your presence is a slight on my sense of cleanliness. Your continued appearances reflect some default in my housekeeping abilities.
You lurk beneath the stove, waiting for me to go away. Well, too bad. I’ll wait here all night if I have to. Still and silent. Patiently waiting. I have a trap and I am not afraid to use it.
I hate you, mouse.
I blame the movie “The Secrets of NIMH.” That movie taught me that mice are smart and crafty, especially the recipients of super-smart potion. Or were they rats? I don’t actually remember the plot. How about Cinderella. That woman had a thing for clever rodents.
I don’t have an infestation of mice, plural; it is only one mouse. And I swear he knows what a trap is. Three years ago, I had a different mouse, very small and gray, he emerged most often from the closet and fell victim to the trap almost immediately.
This one is plump, a sign of his success. He is white and tan, looking more like someone’s escaped pet than a wild creature. He is not afraid of me.
He is NOT AFRAID of me! ARG!
Well, I’ve got the stove surrounded now, mister mouse. A trap at every door. Steal-wool like barbed wire stuffed in every crevice, even the ones too small for your roly-poly shape.
Just try to get into my kitchen now. Just try. Seriously. Now would be good. It’s late and I’ve really go to go to bed.
Yes – I’m aware of the irony, considering my blog name – don’t rub it in.
The Culture Snob
I tried to read a book called, “The Cult of the Amateur” by Andrew Keen, because I thought it would explain how we can recognize the Good Stuff in a world where Everyone can display Everything. But I should have paid more attention to the subtitle: “How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values.” He is talking about me, and you and about everything I love about blogging – he says we are destroying HIGH ART. I couldn’t get past the first chapter before I deleted it from my Kindle. He didn’t answer my question, he just whined and moaned about how we are all drowning in a sea of vacuous crap. But the Great Artists are out there still, and they are creating Great Art. Instead of fighting against the surge, invent the method we need to bring the Good Stuff to the top.
The History Professor
“Kids these days have no attention span,” he says to me over his third Yuengling while slumped in a lounger at a memorial day party. I try to argue, without insulting him, that maybe he shouldn’t be so damn boring. Kids have never had an attention span. But back when we were the students, we had to fake it. The punishment for not paying attention would ‘go on our permanent record.’ And when our parents were kids, the punishment was a swift and painful slap of the ruler on the knuckles, or worse. Kids these days aren’t afraid of you, so you can’t be lazy anymore. You gotta work, hard, to keep them interested. Even the most distracted kid will focus for a long time on something fascinating. You are a brilliant man, make history Fascinating!
The Luddite Mother
“My son used to enjoy building with legos and now all he wants to do is play minecraft. So I took his computer away.” What an idiotic thing to do. Instead of taking away the thing you don’t understand, because it is unfamiliar and not what you did for fun as a kid, learn to play the game. You will be amazed at the brain stimulation you get yourself, and it will be something you can do with your kid – seriously good bonding time with someone who is going to start hating you very, very soon if you continue to take away the things he loves.
There is wisdom in the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
Change is inevitable. Fight against it all you want, but all you will do is make yourself irrelevant, and the world will simply delete you to make room for something new.
Gratitude from the overly thankful drips on me like cold sludge from a clogged gutter.
Words from a recent email:
Oh thank you sooo much for doing this!!! My world is a better place because you are in it!!! I am so grateful for everything you do for me!!! I just can’t thank you enough!!!!!!!!!!!
Doesn’t that just make you want to puke? No? Is it just me? Am I just being ungrateful?
This is one of those times where real life interaction doesn’t translate to email interaction. If they said these words to me face to face, in a rush of emotion and perhaps accompanied by a hug, it wouldn’t sound so gross. I wouldn’t be able to recall the exact words later, and my impression of the moment would only be a burst of gratitude. I wouldn’t find my lip curling up in a sneer the way I do when I read the same words in an email.
The email preserves the words of the sentiment forever. And each rereading churns the flowery phrases into a putrid swill of insincerity.
Please do not think that I have a hard time accepting compliments. Yes, there are times when someone is thanking me profusely for something, and I cringe because what I did wasn’t worth the thanks. But when I put a lot of effort into something, I love getting thanked for it, and I appreciate every word of praise. Believe me – I am the type to have my award speech planed out ahead of time when I believe I’ve done something award worthy.
If you think I am being too harsh, look at it this way: If you gush thanks every time a person does anything for you, with the same level of gushiness regardless of the actual quality of the work, how will they learn to improve themselves?
Sometimes a simple thank you is all that is warranted. Or wanted.
I know there are people out there who are naturally gushy. But when those people cover me with gratuitous gratitude, it doesn’t make my spine shrink. It fact, it feels just the opposite. When the gratitude within the plethora of exclamation points is honestly meant, it feels good.
Those people are rare though. Most of the time, the cringe-worthy thanks comes from people who just don’t feel comfortable with a ‘short’ email. They want to fill the screen with line after line of vacuous crap to show their gratitude in a meaningful way. Perhaps they should stick to twitter.
Next time, if the two necessary words feel inadequate, just up the font size. That way, I’ll get the message without losing respect for you.