Thursday, July 29, 2010

Office Observations

If wearing 2-inch or higher heels causes you to look/sound like/resemble ANY of the below, you should seriously be sticking to flats.
• The person who gets sent home week one from America’s Next Top Model
• One of the Budweiser Clydesdale horsies
• A guy dressed in drag on Halloween
• Those baby giraffes that are first trying to walk
• Ramona from Real Housewives of New York
Besides, it's a law firm. These folks aren't really known for their social skills let alone paying attention to fashion trends. They value putting together compelling arguments, not snazzy outfits. The one woman on my floor dresses in all black every day and changes it up with different pins, most of them are cats. I bet you she thinks the comic strip Cathy is a real riot too.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When mistakes are not okay

I get generally annoyed at the lack of business management that seems to be the status quo at doctor's offices. I know whenever I call, no matter what time of day it is, I will be on hold for at least 10 minutes. And I am generally okay with waiting well past my appointment time to be seen.

But other things I am really not OK with. My original Dr's office in Arlington dropped my insurance at one point and never notified me. Even after scheduling and appointment and verifying that I still had that insurance when I checked in for my appointment, no one stopped to tell me that "Oh, BTW -- we don't accept your insurance anymore so unless you feel like paying a gazillion dollars out of pocket, it's time to find a new doctor" Because I know they don't NEED my business. It's the right thing to do to tell me so I can go find a health care provider in my plan. I found out the hard way when I started getting bills. I don't want to think of the hours I logged on the phone fighting that fight.

So I went off and found a new doctor who accepted my insurance. I admit that the long hours logged on the phone with the insurance company left me with zero energy to do a proper and thorough search for a new doctor outside of the variables of accepting my insurance and close proximity to my home/work. So I ended up at another office. Nice enough, conveniently located, no frills. I did not exactly take a shine to my new doc. While her name was Dr Jolley, she was anything but warm or friendly that you might think when you hear "jolly". She was gruff, apathetic and very disinterested. I didn't care enough at the time and just thought I could request a different doc next time. Like it was a restaurant and I wanted to be seated in another server's section. But try as I might, they kept forcing me to see Dr. Jolley.

The last visit to her was back in December and it went particularly badly. She scrutinized every single detail of my life and my health and at one point actually brought me to tears with her comments. Now, I know I am not downing wheatgrass shots every morning and running marathons, but I am far from being the next likely candidate for the Biggest Loser or on the brink of having a heart attack. I left the office really upset and remember sitting in my car while my good friend AB patiently explained to me that I needed to find a new doctor pronto.

But any time and energy I needed to find a new doctor was devoted to unscrewing the royal screw up from the office's admin staff who kept incorrectly billing my OLD health insurance. even though I had brought my new insurance carrier to their attention no less than NINE times during that visit. When I called to MAKE the appointment I pointed it out to them, just to verify that their accepted insurers list was still accurate and they accepted my new insurance. And over and over again during that December visit I kept giving them the new card, watching them make photocopies of it, clicking away at the computer. I stupidly assumed they were updating the info on my records. They could have been tending to their f*cking facebook Farmville bullsh*t for all I know. So then close to two months was spent back and forth fixing this situation and getting all of the insurance and billing nightmares squared away.

You would think I would know better than to go back. But unfortunately I had to make an appointment to follow up on a medical issue and there wasn't time to find someone new. SO I called last week, and held for 15 minutes before someone begrudgingly picked up the phone and acted like they were doing the world's biggest favor by scheduling me an appointment. Oddly enough, my non-jolly doctor was no longer practicing there. Might have been a good idea for them to let me know that in some sort of mailing, but whatevs. I was excited at the prospect of having a doctor who might not bring me to tears!

Since making that appointment, I have been averaging about 3 missed calls a day from them. No voicemail left, but I just figured it's one of those robo-call things reminding me of my appointment and some glitch doesn't let it leave the info on a voicemail message. But I had a weird dream about the doctor's last night so I took a moment and called them today.

Glad I did. I spoke with someone (after being on hold for only around 7 minutes) and explained that I just wanted to verify my appointment for tomorrow. She asked me all the necessary info and pulled up my file to proclaim "Yes, here you are tomorrow for your pre-op appointment, we'll see you then" Pre-op....what the? I explained she must have misread it or there was some other mistake because unless there was something they weren't telling me....I wasn't having any surgery any time soon. After a back and forth with this woman that almost escalated to a shouting match, she conceded to me and changed my appointment. That's right, I had to ARGUE with the office staff that I WAS NOT HAVING SURGERY.

So I will go tomorrow and hope for the best and then cut ties with this office once and for all. Here's to hoping there isn't a suprise surgery in store for me!

Thank You seems to be the hardest words

One of the most basic things that parents teach their children once they are first starting to talk and interact with other people and children is to use the word “Please” followed appropriately by “Thank You.” At least I HOPE parents and teachers are still enforcing the use of please and thank you these days. Recently, I have found myself saddened that I rarely hear the word please used by adults any more and the use of thank you has become all but nonexistent.

Thank you matters in ALL facets of your life. I was really surprised to learn how infrequent thank you notes have become not just in networking for new job opportunities but in following up with people after interviews. Can it sometimes be a huge pain in the ass? Abso-freaking-lutely. For my current job, I interviewed with 17 different people when all was said and done. And it definitely took time and energy to write out 17 thoughtful and unique thank you notes (because you know they are going to get together and compare – so copy and paste just won’t do) but I know it made a really great impression on my now employer and bosses. When I found myself interviewing candidates for the temp replacement for my assistant, I only got one thank you note. And that was only after that candidate found out she did NOT get the job.

It matters in the work place – thank you to the geeky IT staff member means not only that you truly appreciated them quickly responding to your critical emergency (facebook froze your computer) but ensures that they will promptly answer your calls and emails in the future. Remembering to thank office staff and secretaries will make your work life easier in ways you may not even imagine at the time – copy jobs will get finished faster, your office supply order will mysteriously get bumped to the front of the line. And in my line of work….when a lawyer puts me through HELL to get something done for them, the ones that say thank you are the ones I am going to go out of my way to help in the future.

If you are in a sales or service-oriented business, doesn’t remembering to thank people seem like a no-brainer? Thanking someone for their repeat business or thanking someone for making a purchase with you in the hopes that they will become repeat customers or refer additional business to you.

Or maybe you have done fundraising for a cause that you are passionate about or even helped a your child or a friend’s child sell cookies/candy/etc. to raise money for something related to their school or youth group. Have you remembered to thank people for their donations or efforts? An actual thank you note (email acceptable, old-school handwritten preferred)…not just a facebook status update thanking people far and wide. Make people know how they individually contributed to your effort and what that meant to you. That carries a whole lot more weight than a virtual shout out on a social networking website (that you can’t even be sure they read anyway).

Incorporating thank you into your everyday vocabulary isn’t that hard when you think about it. Thank the bus driver (I wave to mine every day after I get off the bus), thank your coffee barista, thank the checkout person at the grocery store. Thank your friend/significant other/roommate for something simple, like taking out the trash or forwarding you an email that they thought would interest you.

And then make an effort to be a bit nicer and do things worth getting thanked for. Sometimes this is something really simple that everyone loses sight of in our day-to-day and getting mired down in the details or our own all important lives and routines. Your “thank you” could totally make someone else’s day, and that’s a pretty cool thing.

I once had someone tell me that I seemed very “Southern” in my attempts to make every day use of good manners. I took that as one of the best compliments ever. Being gracious is not something that just comes naturally – it is a habit to be learned, practiced, and cultivated until it becomes second nature. You have to want it, it doesn’t just come to you one night while you are asleep.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I don't know what's wrong with these kids today

It’s another sign that I am really getting old. At this point I have grown to a begrudging point of acceptance at being called “ma’am” sometimes and I have learned to turn a blind eye to my gray hair (since I truly got dealt a bad hand and started going gray at 21 -- I blame my Dad's side of the family for that one.) But now, I have started using the phrase “these kids today” with some regularity, and that lets me know I am O-L-D and there ain’t no turning back.

I have recently been lamenting the loss of my assistant who is out on maternity leave and the temp who is filling in until she returns. I was sad for my assistant to leave for a number of reasons – she is the only other department colleague I have here in the DC office, she knows what to do/where to find things/who to ask and knows what people need even before they do, and she let’s me know when she is going to get an afternoon pick-me-up from the cupcake truck. What's not to love? She is an intelligent person who is a hard worker and takes pride in her work from start to finish -- and her good sense of humor and cheerful disposition are just an added bonus. Like me, she never had dreams of working in a law firm. And like me, she doesn’t see this as something she wants to do forever. But we both know it is where we are today, so darn it, we are going to give it our best shot.

So I really couldn’t tell if the current temp assistant (let’s just call her CTA) was disappointing me because she wasn’t my wonderful, amazing assistant and perhaps I may have set the bar too high. Or if she was just disappointing me because she generally wasn’t giving anything her best shot. As the weeks have gone on, it is becoming increasingly clear that CTA hasn’t given anything her best shot since the shots she did at the bar in Dewey last weekend. I don’t hold that against her, she’s 22 and just graduated from college. I (vaguely) remember what it is like to be that age. But CTA simply doesn’t give a sh*t about anything here at work. A request to send out 10 emails takes her ALL day to do. I find simple and easy-to-manage administrative tasks for her to do and she somehow finds a way to do them completely wrong, so not only am I out the hour I took to explain it to her in painful detail, but the hours I need to spend fixing up her f*ck ups. I even take the time to explain the reason behind the request, and how her seemingly simple task is going to add value to a project or initiative. I thought maybe if she understood the "why" of what she was being asked to do, it would seem less like a trivial and boring chore and she might feel more like an integral part of the process. Nope, still takes her 3 times as long to do it as it should, and she does it incorrectly just to make my life more fun.

Lately, I have noticed her sauntering by my office at 4:50 to leave for the day. Do I think there is tons to do in the ten minutes leading up to 5pm? Not really, but if you are supposed to work until 5, then that’s when you leave. The fact that she casually strolls by my office door to leave means that she didn’t even care enough to find an alternate route to the elevator to sneak out. It's sad, but I think it would bother me less if she at least tried to cover up the fact that she was clearly leaving early.

Sadly, it isn’t just her. It’s characteristic of the young people I come in contact with nowadays. Most come from upper-middle class families and have every advantage that I never had -- private prep school educations, college tuition paid for by their parents, after-college apartments and living expenses "subsidized" by mom and dad so they can live a life they couldn't afford on their own meager salaries. Kids that were basically born on third base and act like they hit a home run. They have an overwhelming sense of entitlement about many things in life, but it's really apparent in the workplace. Most of them think that you should graduate and immediately have a job that gives you a private office and a great salary without having to go through any of the grunt work or lower level jobs to get there. One assistant at my current firm (not my rock-star assistant of course!) lamented that she had to take notes during a meeting. Now I know that taking meeting notes is not an exciting job and all, but it is in your job description so stop with your b*tching and take the nfreaking otes. And then just generally work hard, take pride in your work and you will move on to a better job and someone ELSE will have to take the meeting notes. That’s how it works, it’s not complicated.

At one of my first jobs after graduate school I would spend DAYS in a conference room stuffing folders to be used at conferences and workshops. I used to set little goals for myself, like if I could make it until 2pm I would treat myself to something from Starbucks -- anything to keep me from going bonkers (and this was before the ipod came to be, so I did this all in dead silence.) Hell, even DURING graduate school I worked two different waitressing jobs to pay for my rent and bills. CTA lives at home in Bethesda with her parents and I am pretty sure she only uses her paychecks for cute shoes and bar tabs.

It’s going to be a LONG couple months with CTA. I guess I should count my blessings that she doesn't call me ma'am. But I am positive I have more gray hair now than when she started.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The case against googling yourself

You could find some 19 year old with the same name as you that writes exceptionally bad poerty, as I did today. Here's a sample:

A lonely tear falls down
A smile turns to frown
Trickles down the cheek
Does not make you weak
A lonely tear escapes
A lifetime of mistakes
A sad and lonely heart
Others broke apart
A lonely tear is dried
So many nights it cried
A friend reached out their hand
And tried to understand
The lonely tear is gone
Life will carry on
With love from a friend
The lonely tears will end

Hmmm, sounds like someone didn't get Justin Beiber tickets and is in some serious pain! Hope it gets better for you little one, go cheer yourself up by seeing "Eclipse" for the eight time. I'd rather you and your bad poetry be linked to me than the OTHER person with my same name who used to plague me in the DC area...she was in my same sorority at another school. And was a HUGE slut. Awesome. Maybe why people were dissapointed on dates with me when they found out I wasn't THAT girl.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lessons learned from cake and champagne

My friend’s 30th birthday is today, and I imagine she might be celebrating it with some champagne – pink champagne, most likely. But she would just as easily be drinking champagne on a night of no importance, consequence or celebration. Why the heck not, right? Champagne is delicious and she likes it, so ordering it for no special occasion makes perfect sense when you simplify it like that.

It may be her birthday that has me thinking about champagne…which has led me to a story involving cake. The two go oh so well together. But there’s another reason that I will get to, in my own roundabout way.

My Gram passed away just over two years ago after suffering a long time from Alzheimer’s. It is a hard disease not only for the person with it, but for the family and loved ones who take care of that person. And sometimes, as politically incorrect as it may be, you laugh at something that person does or says. Sometimes it’s because you are tired of crying or being upset by it. And sometimes because it is just really, really funny.

Around Christmastime of 2007, a bridal shower was held for my soon-to-be sister-in-law (STBSIL). I was seated at a table with my Gram, sitting across from her. I remember it being a good day because she remembered who I was even though she may have not known what was going on and why we were at this party. But she knew it was a party…and parties always have cake. As is the case with just about any shower I have been to – baby, bridal, and everything in between – it takes about 17 hours to open all the presents. This particular shower had some more “colorful” presents than I have seen at other showers. Basically things one might save for a bachelorette party. I still remember the STBSIL swinging a purple dildo around by a ribbon attached to it and my Gram asking me what that gift was. I think I told her it was some new sort of kitchen appliance. Forgive me, but thank goodness for the Alzheimer’s so she likely never had to remember that image….because I sure wish I could forget it.

Eventually, Gram got tired of all the present opening and asked me when we were going to have cake. “Soon”, I said, “STBSIL has to open all her presents and then I think we are going to have cake.” My Gram turned around and pointed to the sheet cake a few tables away. “It’s right there!” she said. “Yes, I know I know” I replied trying to calm her down. She asked me again about that damn cake maybe three or four more times. She was growing increasingly frustrated by the situation. She picked up a piece of paper and a pen from the table (used earlier for the super fun shower party games that people so enjoy) and wrote CAKE in all caps. My Gram held up her makeshift sign like she was the Norma freaking Rae of desserts. But you know what? I’ll be damned if that didn’t get someone (likely from my family) to say “The hell with this, we aren’t waiting and we are cutting this cake.”

I know it may sound so strange, but that is one of my favorite memories of my Gram. One of her last lessons to me was a really important one – don’t wait for cake.

Don’t wait until a special occasion to have your cake and champagne. Use the good dishes, even if it’s only for a PB&J sandwich. Dress up for work on a day you don’t have any meetings. Get a pedicure in the dead of winter.

Don’t wait for a reason to celebrate….find the reasons to celebrate every day.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mean Girls and the Politics of Pretty

I have found myself thinking about the movie “Mean Girls” quite a lot lately. It’s a smart and funny movie, I mean what else would you expect from Tina Fey? But we (and by we I mean us girls) find it funny because on some level we can all relate to that high school experience. Being on the outside looking in. Or being on the inside and trying to maintain your status there. Finding out that the place you want so desperately to be may not be the place that is best for you. I think we all also remember that feeling of stressing over the perfect outfit, or worrying about having a bad hair day, or obsessing over the number on the scale and what size jeans you could fit into.

I don’t know that I feel right using that word “remember” because for some of us (and I would wager it is actually more of us than some people will actually admit) those circumstances and those feelings are not a memory, they are still a reality in our day-to-day lives. Mean girls still exist and they walk among us.

I understood what it meant to be pretty and popular in high school, and I never quite reached either of those, probably hovering somewhere in the middle tier if you will. But I knew what it meant for me and my “status” when I made it onto the cheerleading team. That’s still an inner ring in most high schools that many girls strive for. Hell, I tried out and failed before I finally made it onto the team. What I was truly longing for was that sense of belonging, of being a part of something. And I so enjoyed the camaraderie and fun I experienced as being on that squad. However, I would be a huge liar if I said I didn’t enjoy the perks that came with all of it. They weren’t the reason I wanted to be on the team, but they sure didn’t hurt either.

I had that same experience all over again when I pledged a sorority in college. I was a little skeptical about the whole Greek life thing, so I didn’t join right away. While most freshman rushed and pledged right away, basically within the first few weeks of arriving to campus, I was just trying to adjust to the whole transition from high school to college. Living in a dorm room with a total stranger, trying to make friends on my floor, figuring out where all my classes were (all on the complete other side of campus – like a 25 minute freaking walk away). But I met people in my dorm and in my classes who did join sororities and they were all pretty nice and normal, so I dipped my toe in during the spring semester. That’s when our campus had an “informal” rush period, where you could kind of come and go to houses as you pleased. I ended up not pledging at that time, but knew for sure I would do it the following semester.

So that fall rolled around and I went through the formal rush process, and for those of you reading this that know it, you know how exhausting and monotonous that whole parade can be. The same conversations over and over….cheeks aching from your plastered on permasmile….worrying about what to wear, what to say. They always say it’s a mutual selection process, but that’s just something nice the Panhellenic folks have to tell you. As a rushee, you have little power over anything. When I got on the other side of things I saw girls not invited back to the next round of parties because they wore something that someone didn’t like (silver pants) or their hair was bad (cheesy highlights) or they “seemed dorky” (in my house that probable meant she enjoyed reading actual books). I hate admitting that, but it happens. And as things turned out for me, I got into one of the “good” houses. All of that other Panhellenic PR about every house being a good house is total sh*t. Kind of like saying Ivy League Universities and community colleges are the same thing because they are both higher education institutions. Anyone on a college campus – whether they are Greek themselves are not – can tell you who the good houses are and who aren’t.

Here’s the thing…for the most part I felt really out of place in that house. I felt like people were looking at me while singing that “One of these things is not like the other…” song in their head. Most of these girls were total knockouts….they may have been the mean girls in their own high schools for all I know. I just felt so much like I stuck out. I had a friend from the dorms who had pledged that sorority the previous Spring, so I figured she maybe just campaigned hard for me to get a bid, so I did. And for all that time I was in the sorority in college, I could never ever shake that feeling of not fitting in. Of not being pretty enough, never being comfortable with my weight (no mater how large or small), and just being totally unattractive.

It wasn’t all my doing, or my thoughts and feelings that were at fault. I remember once when I was running for a position on the chapter’s council – the rush chair. I had purposely taken committee and assistant positions for the rush periods that came after I was initiated, trying to learn and get experience for the position I wanted to eventually run for. But I wasn’t slated for the position by the outgoing council…I later heard that the person that would be leaving that rush chair position had argued that I wasn’t really the person that would be best to go out and welcome the rushees – that someone prettier should be the first person that steps out to greet them. To be fair, that may not be *the exact* words because that happened a LONG time ago and I can’t remember them verbatim. But I was informed about it by more than one person, so that sentiment was expressed loud and clear. It didn’t matter that I had the experience and the ability. Basically what kept me off the ballot was that some of my “sisters” didn’t think I was pretty enough to do the job.

I was really crushed after that experience. I remember some nights I didn’t go out to parties with the rest of my sorority friends because I just felt too ugly to leave the house. I know that likely sounds overly dramatic to some of you, but I can remember that paralyzing feeling like it was yesterday because I still feel it at times today. I am not saying I blame these feeling entirely on my sorority experience, but I know it’s a very large part of it.

I tried very hard to not let the negative election experience sideline me entirely. When I returned for the spring semester, I decided to pull a “screw you” and go run for the same rush chair position for the Panhellenic Board – it would basically put me in charge of rush for the whole campus and oversee the rush chairs for each of the 15 chapters. And shockingly enough, I won. I wish I could say it was because I was the most qualified or ran some fantastic campaign. But in being honest, I think I largely won that election in much the same way that I lost the one in my own chapter. I ran against a girl who was way more qualified than me. The thing is, she was not in a “good” house. I think people voted for the letters on my chest more than they voted for me and what they thought I would do in the job. While I still feel badly about that, I think everything happens for a reason because I ended up doing a truly fantastic job with my position and had some of the happiest and most rewarding experiences ever during that time of my life. But I know the politics of pretty was what likely got me elected.

The pretty factor and mean girls aren’t isolated to high school and college. They are alive and active in our lives today. Would you watch the Real Housewives of any city if they were average-looking, non-surgically enhanced moms, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and loading their kids into minivans to go to soccer practice? Probably not. Hell would we continue to watch these shows if all the ladies got along and were nice to one another? No, that would be boring. So we tune in and watch these women go from the nail salon to the hair salon to the tanning salon, flip tables at restaurants and argue with one another for sometimes no reason at all other than it gives them something to do. (as a side note, they keep giving these housewives microphones and telling them they are fabulous vocalists – please stop doing that Bravo)

And we can’t just say “oh that’s reality TV” and explain it away. A few weeks ago, California Republican Nominee for Senate Carly Fiorina was still wearing a live mic and was recorded mocking Barbara Boxer’s hair. She caught a lot of flack, obviously. But she’s not saying anything other women don’t say when they are out with friends on a Saturday night, or when they comment on a celebrity’s new look. Even Elena Kagan has received a large amount of press for her looks. HER LOOKS. Something that has no bearing on her ability to do the job. Last time I checked being hot was not on the requirements list to be a Supreme Court Justice. I mean Stephen Breyer doesn’t exactly rev my engine, but that doesn’t really have a bearing on his ability to do the job, know what I mean??

People’s looks (and that includes weight) remain one of the last openly acceptable forms of bigotry. It’s awful and it’s wrong and it’s something we probably all do to some extent. I may be more apt to it or more susceptible to it because I’m a female. And I can do all I can to try and not be one of the mean girls. To take people for more than their attractiveness or ability to dress well. But we all have the ability to leave the world a little “prettier” than we found it that day, by smiling at a random person on the street, or complimenting a coworker on their jacket/necktie/haircut. The least we can do is try and make people feel good about their looks as well all live in our beauty-biased world.

On that note, thanks to my sorority sisters for taking pity on me. I see pictures of me on bid day with my long, long hair, beyond pale jeans and doc martens and I physically cringe. Thanks ladies for overlooking my fashionably challenged self and getting me into some black pants and chunky Steve Madden shoes and changing my life forever!