Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oedipus Wrecks

My Dad ruined me.

Wow, I could actually hear a noticeable creak of the wing back chairs as all the amateur psychologists leaned forward at once.

Well before your salacious hand-wringing gets too noticeable, put down your Rorschach tests and phrenology charts right now. My Dad never boxed my ears, forced me to eat breakfast out of a shoebox in the basement of touched me in what that other not-to-be-forgotten Stuart of "Mad TV" fame would often refer to as my "danger zone."

In fact, I can say in all confidence that my Dad is my hero. I wouldn't be a semblance of a decent person if it wasn't for both of my parents.

Having said that, the dude still inadvertently messed me up a tad.

When I first began my working career he gave me the following advice:

* "Never refuse a job!" Well, I think if I haven't disproved this one by now in previous entries, I'll officially pack it in. There are certainly jobs you should refuse to do. My advice: even though you're in economic hostage to an employer do not get complacent. Don't be afraid to transition from one employer to another until you find one that gives some portion of a rat's ass about you.

* "Be loyal to your employer and they'll be loyal to you." For about six years I really believed this one. I was a Kool-Aid swillin' fool for Sears until I laid off along with eight-hundred other people, not because we weren't profitable or we weren't doing a good job but because Ontario outbid Nova Scotia for a better incentive package in grant money and tax breaks. Oooo-kay, scratch that one off...

* "Always accept a promotion!" You know my rant on that one already: often accepting a promotion means your hours and responsibilities double and by the time you factor in overtime, you aren't making much more money. A friend of mine who used to have a nice, normal nine to five job they loved, accepted a promotion and the next thing I know I'm getting emails from them like this:
"My work schedule just got blown out of the water, so I’m out for this week. I don’t (know) when I’ll be home tomorrow, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Sorry guys." See, now this is horse-s#!&! If you take a vacation or get sick and come back to work and promptly want to gnaw on a cyanide capsule because no one is trained to take care of things while you were gone and now you have five times the amount of crap to do and regret not fleeing to Aruba to sell towels on the beach, well then, I hate to break it to you. The company you work for sucks.

* "Work hard and your efforts will be rewarded." Really? Well, it's been my experience over the past twelve years toiling away in thankless office/call center environments that nothing can me further from the truth. A friend of mine who has impeccable performance reviews, is universally well liked by his staff and peers and has been wildly successfully at everything he's been tasked to do was asked by his employer what alternate role they might like to take in a future department shakeup. Craving some modicum of stability, he politely declined any such transition, told them that he liked where he was and really enjoyed the relationship he was cultivating with his staff over the course of the last few months. Well, he just found out a few days ago that - wishes be damned - he's proven to be "just so darned competent" that he's being forced to manage another group of new hires that common knowledge around the office has already branded as a pack of "problem children". Lesson learned here: don't work too hard, distinguish yourself too much or be perceived as notably competent otherwise you could be taking a big ole' inadvertent bite out of a poo sandwich.

* "Always obey your bosses." What I've learned: many employers that claim to have all the answers to the universe and make directives with 100% certainty are usually concealing gross deficiencies in practical experience, insight, cognitive skills, knowledge and (perish forbid) common sense. Try this little experiment. If your sales or marketing boss asks you right away to start doing something for or with your customers that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever (because you know your customers far better than your bosses), don't start doing it right away. I'm willing to wager nine times out of ten no one notices that you're not doing it, soon realizes just how stupid the idea was and will never mention it again and *presto* you've just avoided looking like a total schmuck to your client. Now, if they ask to do it a second time...get on that s#!*.

Now, I can't blame by Dad for giving me this advice. Maybe working conditions in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies actually supported these principals. After all, I always get a chuckle when my Mom keeps doggedly asking every year what kind of Christmas bonus I'm going to get from whatever employer I've had over the past twelve years. I keep telling her just as doggedly that the kind of companies that used to do that for their employees now seem painfully few and far between.

After thinking it over for a bit I have to admit that if I were put in the same position I'd likely do the exact same thing my Dad did. In fact if I were ever to have a kid (unlikely if the procedure took like my Doctor promised) than I'd likely give him or her similar advice. Why? Because I'd hate to have an interaction like this with my kid:

Bart Simpson: "I am through with working! Working is for chumps!"
Homer: "Son, I'm proud of you! I was twice your age when I figured that out."

I want to give my hypothetical child an illusion about the importance of being earnest. I want L'il Dave (or Davette) to give potential employers the benefit of the doubt. I don't want them to be completely jaded even before they've worked a day in their life.

I just wish that employers would give me a bit more material to work with so I could speak to this with a bit more authority.

The other thing that messed me up is the fact that ever since I remember my Dad has made a respectable living from being a visual artist. I grew up watching him paint these tremendous landscapes, seascapes and a host of other photo realistic vistas. He did this and still managed to support a wife, a kid, a mortgage and car payments. I grew up in a household where I'd often be asked to slap jesso on a canvas and frame a painting just as readily as helping with the dishes or mowing a lawn. I grew up attending art exhibits, shows and sales witnessing first-hand that a diligent artist can be praised and rewarded.

I grew up thinking that any job you do in the short and precious span of time allocated to you in life must allow you to apply some personal stamp, some creative signature on it otherwise it's just a waste of time. Any organ donor can do that!

This can be just as simple as having the trust and authority to send an email to your staff that puts an important request in fictional story form, giving people goofy nicknames on tags for an informal team meeting or dressing like a cowboy and singing trail songs as an elementary school teacher.

But if you find yourself in a work environment where every aspect is controlled and every creative impulse has been beaten out of you, it's time to get the F#@&; out of Dodge. RIGHT NOW!

So, thanks Dad, not for the glass half empty but the glass half full. I'm considerably more jaded now but at least I can point to a time when I felt as if the world was my oyster.

Plus you've made me a pretty die-hard eternal optimist.

EPIC: A link to my Dad's/Idol's Website


FAIL: I know, it could have been a whole lot worse!

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