Life Skills & Frustrations

In the days (er, nights, rather) when I worked at Denny’s, I had a terrible manager. Godawful. This manager offended long-time customers, pissed off the cooks, and creeped out the servers. I had one family — a large, friendly Catholic family who’d dined with us since the opening — walk out. The patriarch handed me a tip–I’d only gotten their drinks thus far–and said a few curse words about my manager before leaving.

My manager sucked.

This is one of the things that made an impression on my interviewers when I first applied for my current job. I explained that I adapted to his management style. Namely, I figured out how to keep him in the back with the cooks (where he was actually pretty decent, as long as he didn’t speak). I managed the front of the house without him, and I did it well. He eventually gave me his manager’s card in case I needed to override something.

I quit after 6 months with him.

Here’s the problem: I always knew (in theory) how to work around authority figures, but I never actually had to until then. From that experience, I developed a certain expectation of customer service, right and wrong, and manager-employee relationships.

Long story short, I did the same thing in my next job (with far less subtlety) to the point that my manager tried to do the whole, “You’ll never work in this town again!” thing.

Two completely separate industries, two customer service-oriented jobs, two managers I worked around instead of with. Both managers were shown the door shortly after I left those companies.

I never went to HR. I never complained (to anyone with power). I just did my job to the best of my abilities, including using the ability to circumvent authority. Let’s be honest. That’s exactly what I was doing, and it worked out for the customers and the employees in the long run.

Now I’m here. From time to time, things go very wrong (as they will in any job) and my fight or flight instinct is far more “fight” than “flight” (ironic, right?). Here, however, that “fight” thing has bitten me in the ass more than once. I’ve learned that the higher up one goes into the world of politics, the harder it is to see the end game. There are always things at work behind the scenes.

In the customer-facing jobs, it was simple: follow policy while making the customer happy; to hell with anyone who stands in the way.

Work isn’t that simple any more. To get something accomplished, you have to go through the politics of your own department. If it’s a multi-department effort, you have to go through the politics of those departments. If you try to instigate anything on your own, it falls on deaf ears. If you push too hard, you start to sound like an angry chihuahua challenging a steamroller in combat.

Sometimes I want to walk away and do something easier. Maybe go back to frontline customer service or walk away entirely and finish my design degree. I don’t think I can do either one. I don’t know that I could face myself if I gave up on a frustrating job I love this much.

Another part of me argues that there’s a difference between giving up and knowing when to walk away.

Two problems with “walking away.”

(1) I’m a listener first, and a decision-maker second. Leaving the path-forging to others isn’t in my nature, even if I wish it was. I don’t want to be the face of anything–any department, any company–but I want to be the one who makes it successful.

(2) I wouldn’t meet people who share the same passion for this company that I have. Remember when I taught that new hire class in September? There was a second one going on at the same time, and I love those newbies (almost) as much as my own. One of those new hires told me the other day that he thinks he could really succeed in this company. I agree-he’s smart, charismatic, and resourceful. I can name five other people who were hired into my department in the last 18 months who share the same qualities, without even pausing to brainstorm names.

The question is, then, how do I alleviate this frustration? I’m not sure, but I have to. I have to do something. The number one thing I don’t want to do is play the political game. That might be the way the old world works, but the old world is falling to the millennials.

We millennials get a bad rap for being entitled or whatever, and it’s sort of true. We do believe we’re entitled–to respect and to a better world. I expect respect from everyone I meet, and I will give respect in the same way. Respect should be mutual, automatic. It is not something that must be earned, but it still can be lost and regained. I expect to create a better world–and I will work as hard as I have to for it–but I expect everyone else to do their piece, too. I’m not Atlas. I cannot keep the sky from falling by my own strength.

So what is the next step? As a lowly idealist with no power except her mind and her voice, how can I make my ideas happen without getting entrapped by old world politics? Any suggestions?

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5 thoughts on “Life Skills & Frustrations

  1. You go girl. I’m probably twice your age and I’ve learned a think or two. Remember that wherever you go, there you are. Meaning that you work for yourself, no matter the circumstance. Your obligation to yourself is to do the best job you cam do. Give the best possible value for your time. If you can make even bad bosses look good, everybody wins.

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  2. And another think: Everyone loves the team member who is available to help untangle snags in the system and ease communications, in friendly ways. Kind humor is a great tension reliever. I have roosters so have also learned to tout the benefit of primal screaming. It helps people breathe better. You can do it in your car.

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    • Ha! I learned the value of screaming when I worked in restaurants. The walk-in freezer is sound proof.

      I try to do the humor thing as much as possible. My old world co-workers find it obnoxious, but they also don’t take direction well. No loss to me.

      Thank you for the encouragement!

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  3. “We do believe we’re entitled–to respect and to a better world.” Yes exactly! I had a terrrrrible manger once and stayed at the job for years. Deeply regret it now as it’s definitely caused a lot of panic around the idea of working with anyone again!

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    • In high school, I promised myself I would never stay in a job that I hated. I hated working with the overnight manager at Denny’s. I hated working with the assistant manager at my first and last retail job. I hated working at the airport. I moved on from those places, even if it was only after a few months. Now I love what I do. On days where everything sucks, I try to think about other jobs I could have–and I don’t want any of them. It’s weird to think that all of my random job history and my decisions to quit when the jobs got crappy led to this one.

      I hope you find the right fit. Don’t let the crappy managers get in the way!

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