Monday, April 23, 2012

A Case of The Mondays

Every Monday morning I wake up at 4:00 am, get dressed and walk into work.  At 5 am I walk into a dark and empty restaurant, turn everything on, count the money, start the coffee, and eat a bagel.  Then I sit in the silence and wait for thoughts to come into my head.  Usually every Monday morning the customers I get are my regular customers, I know what they're going to drink without asking, and know what they're going to order without asking.  They know about my life and I know about theirs, and we will pass the time with idle conversation.  But, every once in awhile, on a Monday morning I get a new customer, who really makes me think.  I get goosebumps and wonder if they even begin to understand how they have altered my life in that simple moment where I was getting their coffee and making their food.  Almost a year ago, I had an older gentleman come in and ask me about my life and what I was doing, and the conversation that followed was so insightful at the time, that I stated later that I wished that I had gotten his information, because I probably would invite him to my wedding someday.  Today, three lovely gentlemen walk into the restaurant, order coffee, and then as I bring the food to their table, they join hands and pray.  The youngest man, I was told, had served two tours in Afghanistan I believe.  I don't know what it was about this small table that has me thinking so much, but it really has rejuvenated me.  This young man has gone and fought for our country, not once but twice, seen horrors untold, and yet he will never know the deep appreciation I actually feel for him.  Some of my closest guy friends have served in the military and I have seen what it has done for them, and yet here he sits, and he prays, with his family, before he eats breakfast.

How deep this man's faith must be.

When we are young we worry about little to nothing.  What is for lunch, what am I going to play for recess?
When we get a little older we begin to worry about a bit more.  What clothes we were, are our friends going to like us?  Our worries begin to become more based on other people, what they think of us.
By the time we are teenagers, it seems to be the end of the world.  We are concerned about homework, parties, our friends, being accepted, our parents need to be cool, and if anything does not go the way we want it to go, it is seemingly the end of the world.  We have no idea that the world is not going to stop if we get grounded and miss the party.
Late teens and early twenties, most are in college, and our worries are intensified.  We start to think of our future, we are on our own, we have to wake ourselves up, we have to pay for things, we have to work hard, and balance that with the carefree nature of being able to do the things we wanted to do when we were under our parents roof but weren't allowed.

Now I am 25.  I have been out of college for a few years, and I am faced with working crazy hours, losing friends, not being able to have fun when I want to.  I make tons of sacrifices.  I lose sleep, I pay bills, I work hard, I don't see my friends often, I rarely even get to go out to the bar and enjoy a beer.  And what do I worry about?  Finally, it seems that I have hit the age where I worry about the future.  Now that it is right here in front of me, I worry about using my degree, I worry about when I will get married, I worry about how I'm going to pay my bills, I worry about how I will afford to buy a house and start a family, I worry about how my actions effect everyone around me, I worry about being respected and admired.   How foolish it seems to me that when I was younger I felt like it was the end of the world, and now I'm still panicking.

I have seen terrors and horrors, but nothing near compared to what I'm sure this man has seen, and he still has enough faith to thank the Lord for what he has.

I worry all the time, I'm pretty sure everyone who knows me on a personal level knows this.  Don't get me wrong, I definitely go in spurts where I am very thankful for what I have and where I am in the world.  But I think it's time for me to stop only being thankful when good things happen.  I have to learn to be thankful even when I feel like I am losing my mind.  Because there are far worse things out there.  There are people out there who do not have anything near what I have.  I am incredibly lucky and blessed, I should be thankful.

I don't necessarily dislike my Monday morning shift, in fact, I requested it.  I quite enjoy the quiet of a Monday morning and trying to make a delicious breakfast to help someone get through the beginning of their week.  So when I say I have a case of the Mondays, it's not really in the same negative connotation as most people see it.  Monday is usually the day I am feeling most insightful, most reflective, most inspired.  And as for this Monday, I am thankful that I woke up at all.

So I guess my message today is for everyone to take a little differently.  If you are not religious, that's okay, you don't have to take this as a lesson about being religious and having faith.

My message is for people to be thankful for what you have.  No matter what your age is, in five years chances are the things you were upset about will not matter as much to you.  You'll have new worries and new problems and they'll probably be much bigger than you ever imagined.  So be thankful, worry less, and enjoy life. Try to have my version of a Case of the Mondays.

Happy Monday!

Monday, April 16, 2012


I've been thinking a lot lately about the qualities needed for one to leader other people or to be in an authority position.  This mostly comes from the fact that I'm the manager at my place of work, and lately it seems that people have been having issues with the things I do without necessarily having an understanding of why.  My insecurities on this topic also come from the fact that years ago, I was vice president of my sorority and had an intense desire to become president, but had a competitor who succeeded and got the position over me.  While years have passed from that election and several people have told me that if they could go back they would change the outcome, I really wonder about what it takes to be an effective leader.  I think I have some ideas but wanted to elaborate in my blog as a sort of conversation with myself and my readers to see if perhaps I can stumble upon some sort of resolution, and then the next time I find myself in a leadership position, I will feel a bit more secure and confident about the decisions that I make.  First, I would like to go back to the past.

When I was vice president of the sorority, the sorority was comprised of two leading boards who made the majority of the decisions for the sorority.  There was an Executive Council, who was responsible for duties such as organizing philanthropies, social events, community service, etc.  The Executive Board was a higher reigning council who dealt with nationals and making decisions of whether or not we were going to do certain events, turning in reports about the events we did, and met with other organizations on campus.  As Vice President I was on the Executive Board, and was also in charge of the Executive Council, making sure to meet with them several times a month and ensure they were doing their duties and responsibilities in a timely and effective manner.  The President position was more of overseeing everyone, and at that time, our president was relatively new, hadn't had a lot of time to train for the position because our previous president had left abruptly.  It is my opinion that because of the chaos that ensued from the current president not necessarily being trained, the sorority chose my opponent over me because she was more outspoken and they translated that into the fact that she would get stuff done more efficiently to me.  My issue with my opponent winning over me was not who she was as a person.  It was more the manner in which she approached things, and how in my opinion that was not necessarily what I expected in a leader.  To me, a leader is not the type of person who is so outspoken that they make decisions and tell others that decision is final.  A leader is a person who has the best interests of the group in mind, who uses a democracy to come up with the best solution, and if everyone is in agreement with it, then the decision is made.  As vice president, I would pitch my own ideas of how to improve the organization, but if the majority of the people were unsure, I accepted it, and asked for more ideas.  I allowed the organization to make their own decisions about who they wanted to elect into positions, instead of stating my own opinion, and swaying everyone to agree with me.  When you are dealing with a group of people, you have to understand everyone else's opinion, and make a decision that will not necessarily please everyone.  You have to determine what is best for the group, and sometimes the group may not know what is best for them.  However, I feel that it is then your duty as a leader to find the right way to demonstrate to them that your method will be effective, and if they still do not agree, then I believe being a good leader means going with what they request, and dealing with the consequences after.  Back then I feel my weakness in others eyes was that they did not think that I was willing to make decisions and see them through.  I disagree with it, but because I was not able to effectively prove to them that I would be able to, I just had to deal with the consequences.

With my current job, I have found a lot of new issues that I feel came easily to me before.  Because we are such a small group of employees, and most of us know each other from outside of work, it is hard for my employees to separate the person they know outside of work from their boss in work.  I think sometimes they take offense to my criticism because outside of work I am their friend.  With some employees I have managed to juggle this pretty well, sometimes even preceding the conversation by saying, "This is Jenn your boss talking."  With others, it appears that they will take what I say outside of work, into work, and vice versa. This causes a lot of hurt feelings, some ruined friendships and work relationships, and a lot of talk which makes me appear to be a less than worthy manager.

It's frustrating to me.  Over the two years that I have worked here, I feel that my management skills have improved increasingly.  I feel that in the beginning, I wanted everyone to like me, and so I would grant favors to those who asked, sometimes frustrating others.  Eventually, I overcame that, and now I like to think that I subject everyone to the same scrutiny.  If you do your job, and you do it well, then we have no problems.  If you are having problems, first I reach out and try to address it with you to find improvement.  If there is no improvement and I begin to get concerned that there will be no improvement, I go to my boss with it, and we discuss how to get through to the employee.  My problem is that sometimes, I go to my boss, and I think he is going to deal with it, and then he doesn't, and I am left frustrated, or other employees are left frustrated because something is not getting done.  This generates a lot of talking and complaining, and then because I am at the root of the issue, I get blamed. 

Another problem is that I am expected to keep an eye on every single employee.  However, certain weeks, I don't see an employee, because they are working at different times.  The issue with this is that if another employee comes to me saying that someone is not doing something, and I know I'm not going to see them, then what am I expected to do? Is it fair to contact an employee outside of work and request they come in so that I can address the issue with them?  I don't necessarily think so.  But, if I tell the original employee that I'm going to speak to them and then I don't see them, they may hear it from the original employee and then again, I get frustrations thrown at me.  If I don't think I am going to see the employee, depending on the severity of the action, I decide who I am going to speak to.  If it is a severe problem, I go to my boss because if I am not going to see them, my boss will (we work opposite schedules).  If it is a minor problem, I usually go to the server supervisor, or the person that is going to work with them next and ask them to say something to them about it.  This way, the problem is addressed.  But again, there comes hurt feelings.  People don't understand why I am not personally addressing the issue with them.  (Again, I state, the only reason is because I am not going to see them).  But then, if I address an issue with someone because they happen to stop in to work on their off day, they get angry with me for that.  This is something that I just can't seem to win with.  I am actually content with it.  Not happy, content.  I've accepted a long time ago that I'm not going to please everyone.  Sometimes, I'm not even going to please my boss.  But at the end of the day, I know that I am doing my job, I have reasons behind everything that I do, and I think they are justified.  If someone needs to make me a villian and blame me for them not necessarily doing a good job, then fine.  I go to bed at night and most of the time, I know that I did a good job at work, and on the days that I feel like I may not have, I go into work the next time with the mentality that I am going to do even better to make up for it.  Honestly, my opinion is that people want to look for someone to blame for their frustration or their insecurity of whether or not they do a good job.  They look to me to blame, and think that the way that I approach things is wrong.  But in my opinion, it is not necessarily right to always be seeking out someone to blame for a problem, you should be seeking out the person who is going to fix it.  If something is wrong, I don't necessarily go seeking out who did it wrong.  Actually, usually I address it with all the employees that could have done it wrong, and when they reply to me with a chorus of "It wasn't me" I reply with "I don't know who it was but now you know so you don't do it as well."  Even when I do this, which I feel like is a fair way, people get mad because now everyone is aware of the mistake they made. To me, I don't care if they get mad, because I have fixed the problem.

A leader cannot just put the needs of each individual over the business.  I have been getting a lot of negative comments lately because of my recent decision not to hire someone.  I decided not to hire an extra person because of the fact that we have people available for all of our necessary shifts.  The issue is not that we need someone, because honestly if we had hired someone when they wanted to, eventually everyone would have complained about losing hours.  What they wanted was to be able to request off and they felt they couldn't request off when they wanted because certain days we need basically every employee.  The ironic thing I find is that realistically what they want is someone to work when they don't want to.  We can't necessarily hire an employee and say, "We're not going to give you hours every week, unless someone requests off and we need you."  You may not think this is ironic but it is because we have someone who no longer works here, who was a good employee and she is willing to come back and help us out whenever we need it.  The ironic part is that the same people who are saying we need to hire somebody, do not think it's right to ask someone who doesn't work here to cover the shifts they wish to request off.  But essentially, that is what they want.  The employees are not going to want to sacrifice their own hours unless they have something they'd rather be doing.  They're going to complain because they have a lower paycheck, or because someone is getting to work the better shifts than them.  I didn't feel it was right to hire an employee at the time because there are employees that work here that are willing to work often, without requesting off, and will work late one night and early the next morning because they recognize this is a job.  Now it just so happens that we are going to have to hire someone for the summer, and people are replying with a lot of comments, see we needed to hire someone.  At that point, no we did not.  The only reason we need to hire someone for the summer is because several of the employees have requested off the same ten days and we know we are going to need the coverage.   Me and my two bosses are actually still conflicted because realistically, once school ends there are a few weeks where we don't need someone at all.  But, we cannot hire someone and tell them we don't need them until the middle of June.  So now we are going to have to hire this person, and deal with the backlash of people complaining that now that it is summer they want more hours, but we hired someone who is going to be taking those hours from them, because they have requested off several times during the summer.  A leader cannot please everyone. At the time it was in our best interest not to hire someone because we had ample coverage and did not really have the money to be paying someone to train.  But again, I get the blame for employees being unhappy.

I guess what being a good leader means to me, might be different than what people expect.  I think a leader is someone who is fair.  Someone who had an order for how they go about dealing with a situation.  The first time I notice a problem, I mention it casually to the person, in a way to let them know that I have noticed but that they are not necessarily in trouble if they can change the behavior.  If I notice the problem is not improving, I let the other management know of the issue, and then speak to the person giving them advice on how to improve upon the situation.  If after a decent amount of time the behavior still hasn't improved, I will talk to them in a stern manner, and then finally address it to my boss saying that something must be done.  I try to avoid getting my boss to talk to the person, because I understand that at times he can be seen as more threatening than me.  Usually, if I have intervened and my boss is going to handle the situation, I try to let the employee know that there is going to be a discussion, to try and alleviate some of the pressure.  I know that I personally have never enjoyed being blindsided with my boss being unhappy with my work, it upsets me.  So I try to let the employee know that a discussion is going to occur so that they can either fix the behavior to avoid the discussion, or they can prepare themselves for what they are going to say.  I find a leader has to be willing to be a scapegoat for the employees and their problems, but they also must be able to separate what actually is their fault and what is not, so that they can improve where the need be.  I feel a good leader is someone who is always looking to improve upon themselves, and be open to new ways of doing things.  With every new group of employees, what might have worked before might need to be adjusted.  I feel like a good leader must be a good listener.  I feel like a good leader must be proactive instead of passive.  I feel like a good leader knows that they do a lot of stuff behind the scenes that might not get noticed or appreciated.  A good leader is someone who will fix the problem anyway they can, instead of blaming everyone.  A good leader will work hard, long hours, will little compensation and appreciation.  A good leader will be talked about, good and bad.  A good leader delegates responsibility.  A good leader leaves their outside problems outside of work.  A good leader works efficiently.  A good leader is a good person, who knows when to break their own rules.  A good leader is selfless. 

I don't know if I'm a good leader.  I doubt myself quite frequently.  But at the end of the day, I can only hope that I'm good enough.  And that when I leave this place next month, people will remember the good things that I did, instead of the mistakes I've made.  If they do that, then these past two years won't have been a waste.

Everyone wants to be remembered for the good they've done.  I hope I am.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We're All Doomed. Well, Most of Us.

If you would like to know more about what I'm going to talk about, I suggest you read the article above because reading it is what spurred the blog I'm about to write. 

Basically for those of you who don't wish to read the article, it speaks about how a lot of people are shelling out tons of money, or taking out tons in student loans only to go to college for a major that will not provide them enough money to pay off said loans in the long run.  The author of the article talks about how engineering is pretty much the only major that pays off anymore, and that students need to be more selective before choosing their potential career and taking out student loans.  There are certain things that I agree with in this article and other things that conflict me.  I do think that students today need to be careful with taking out student loans.  It is so easy for kids to think that taking out loans will solve all their problems and they don't need to worry about how much they take out because paying them off is years away.  I know a lot of people today, myself included that wish they had been a bit more careful about how much they had taken out in loans, and I know I had tried to work a bit more during college to help pay them off. 

The thing that bothers me is the person endorsing the idea of being careful about picking your major because you won't be able to pay off your loans.  What happened to America being the land of dreams, and people being able to do what they love?  What happened to encouraging kids to go to school for something they are passionate about so that when they graduate they end up enjoying their job and it feels less like work?  I understand that the economy is bad, I understand that unemployment rates are terrible, but I don't necessarily think that students need to be changing their majors to engineering at the drop of the hat.  I'm not saying that the article is necessarily saying this, I do believe that it is attempting to show kids the importance of being aware of how much your annual income is going to be with the career you would like to have, when you are going to need loans to cover your tuition fees.

My point is that I find it sad that times have gotten so hard now.  In my own case, I have a degree and was told all throughout high school to go to college because those with degrees earn higher incomes.  Two years after graduating college, I am not technically using my degree.  I work as a manager of a restaurant, because in suburban areas like Shippensburg, there aren't an abundance of writing or editorial jobs for English majors.  Let me also stop you quite short by informing everyone that English majors can't necessarily find jobs at newspapers, that would be Communication/Journalism majors, it is a different style of writing.  But back to my point, even now that I am moving away from Shippensburg, and moving to the Harrisburg area, which is a more populous city, it will still be near impossible for me to find a job in my field.  Was I aware of this when I chose my major? Actually yes.  My original plan was that I would get my teaching certificate and teach to earn my main income, while writing and submitting work to be published on the side.  Why did I not go into teaching?  Well, teaching jobs, are pretty slim right about now as well.  I have several friends who have graduated in the past four years with education degrees who are having trouble finding jobs just about anywhere.  It is not for a lack of internships either.  Most of my friends had several internships while in school, moved to different areas of the state and some even to different states.  What are they doing now?  Most of them are working smaller jobs like waitressing on the side while waiting to be called up for substitute teaching.  Some of my friends are subbing for several districts and working at restaurants to pay their rent because they don't get called that often.  One of my friends was lucky enough to get a full time teaching job, because he had graduated from that high school, knew the teachers well, and knew the teacher who was retiring.  It's sad.  Someone's first thought might be that a lot of elementary or high school teachers teach until they are at quite an old age, some of my high school teachers were in their sixties and even seventies, and had taught my parents as well.  So, someone might think that perhaps these teachers need to retire earlier to create jobs for all the graduates looking.  The problem with that is that teachers make roughly 30,000 dollars a year, and so a lot of them have to work until they are older to even save enough for their own retirement. 

It's a hard world out there right now.  Most college students are graduating and are terrified that they don't have a job lined up yet.  Even more graduates are fretting because years have passed since graduation and they aren't yet working in their major.  What is there to be done? I have no idea.  I can't really give anyone any advice on this matter.  The only thing that I would suggest is for students to take advantage of all the opportunities they have when still in school.  Take on internships, join clubs, work while in school, and save save save.  Do anything that you possibly can so that when you do graduate, you at least have these items on your resume that will make you more interesting to those who are hiring.  Again, you still might not be hired.  It's tough out there.  Honestly, we're all doomed.  Just doomed.