Positive thinking versus positive acting

I love the Current on the CBC.

Just tuned into the repeat program where I listened to writer, Barbara Ehrenreich talk about her latest book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. It was a great conversation that appeals to the misanthrope that lurks inside me, long after I stopped listening to the Smiths.

I agree with a lot of what she had to say – that in chasing happiness and insisting that we have to be outwardly positive to receive good things and to ward off or defend against bad things happening, is a load of crap. In just focusing on having a positive attitude we risk blaming people for their own misfortune because they weren’t positive enough. We also set up a system where no one has to help anyone because their attitude alone is what controls their lives.

Ehrenreich describes how this cult of positive thinking has affected work. She states that people are often fired for being negative or nay-saying. Like they aren’t being team players or supporting the boss or the company’s self-image. She says that it is the yes-men who are to blame for the current economic collapse.

I totally get what she is saying. Ehrenreich made me think of what it means to say “yes”, what it means to take ownership over your own attitude, and of a Seth Godin post, Looking for Yes.

1. Saying Yes doesn’t mean ignoring the no. To me it means figuring out the work-arounds or making efforts to affect what you have the power to change. Saying yes wherever you can rather than stating what you cannot do makes you solution oriented. Being solution oriented makes you more valuable at work.

2. Remembering the bright side keep you moving. When things get crappy we can easily get mired in our misery. I have definitely been so sad that I didn’t get out of bed – not to eat, not even to pee. I have been miserable. But I don’t stay numb from the pain for long. I always remember that it could always be worse. And the person you are envisioning that has it worse than you is saying to herself, it could always be worse. And so on. ‘At least I have my health,’ someone might say. ‘ At least I have enough money to take care of myself,’ someone sick might say. ‘At least I have someone who loves me,’ someone poor and sick might say. ‘At least I’m still good looking,’ someone poor, sick, and lonely might say. Sometimes, when I can’t move my heart to be cognizant that it could be worse, I call up my friend Eva who survived the Holocaust. She makes me laugh and tells me she loves me. I haven’t lost nearly half of what she has and she makes the effort to make positive change on the planet every day.

3. Positive thinking is about control, yours. The locus of control theory of psychology has been around for a while. While there is a lot of debate as to the depth of the effect, effect it does have. If you truly believe that you have no effect on your surroundings in any way, why bother? When I’m feeling despair over the fickle universe, I, at least, tell myself that by trying to make a change for the good, I’m not adding to the crap. Sometimes it is enough to simply make yourself feel good, if only because, in feeling positive, you are less likely to poop on someone else’s cornflakes.

4. Positive acting does work. Cognitive-behavioural therapy works. Sometimes, when you are not emotionally doing well, actually acting as though you are can help you get to that better emotional state. Whether it is an endorphin rush or whether you are just too busy doing to think too hard about the negative.

Look for solutions. Don’t think of yourself as being at the bottom of the barrel. Own your own universe so that you can control it. Act as you wish you felt. Forget positive thinking. Instead, act and be positive.

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Having answers is really about making links

Someone who recently checked into this blog asked me how I came up with all of my advice or observations. How do I have all these answers?

I am no expert. I hope I don’t come off as such because know-it-alls are frauds. I figure I’m a typical, introspective person who, by my age, has had enough jobs and enough relationships to be able to pull some common threads based on observation, many failures, a few successes, and finally listening to people way smarter than I am.

I don’t have answers. At best, I have tips based on what I have noticed and anyone can take it or leave it or tell me to shove it. However, again, to not come off like I am an expert imparting my wisdom (like Gwyneth Paltrow in GOOP which leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths despite the many useful items) I’ll try to make a point of explaining how I arrived at my “tips.”

Ultimately, this blog is really for me to figure out things for myself. I don’t even check the stats. I assume most of the ‘unique users’ are bots, anyway.

But thanks for reading, Sweets.

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Time management… the lie of our times

It’s fall and for many people in many industries things are ramping up again. Fall launch for TV (and for other media), trials at the courthouse, school and more school. I’m swamped. How about you? In my transit travels recently,  I noticed my fellow transit riders reading yet another time management article in the free paper, and I have seen more than one person reading the tried and true books in hopes of improving their productivity. And then there’s the obnoxious attitude of this woman who is getting attention lately. She blogs that most of time we are wasting time.

Time can’t be managed. It marches on regardless of what you do. Just ask the dinosaurs.

We could always try to use our time to accomplish many, many things. But let’s be honest. How many of us will always make lunches, iron clothes and pack bags before making a 10 pm bedtime? Virgos, Germans, or OCD patients need not respond.

What we can manage is our guilt, anxiety, and the risk that the shit will hit the fan at work or at home. The one thing Vanderkam does get right is in saying that dealing with the time we have is all about choice. Every time  you are doing one thing, you are not doing something else (like I’m writing here at 11:30 pm instead of sleeping, picking out clothes for work, changing the laundry, or cleaning the bunny cage I can smell from my bedroom right now). Just accept it.

You can’t schedule each hour of your life to do something you SHOULD be doing. Try to figure out what you WANT and NEED to do.

1. Everyone needs some ME time, so get over it. I spend my alone time exercising. I can rationalize abandoning my husband and child to eating, cleaning and bathing on their own two to three hours a week. I tell myself that I need to be healthy and attractive for the sake of my whole family. I feel no guilt that I’m taking away time from them and their needs. You can always rationalize your alone time. If you need to go out drinking with the girls to remind yourself that you are your own person, this can benefit your family, too. Your me time should be guilt free. Spend it however you choose.

2. Put time in the bank for when you feel your will depleting. About one day a week I work really late at the office. Where I can work late and I’m up for it, I just do it. When my child was visiting my aunt this summer, I worked late most of that week. That way, when I have to leave at 4:30 pm to make the daycare pick up on another day, no one can question my commitment or my efforts. Also, there are days when I just can’t get out of bed or when I want to burn the office down. I take the time I need to diffuse, whether I waltz in late, take a long lunch, or skip out early.

3. Save up mindless stuff for when you feel out of your mind. There will be days when I want to simply “phone it in.” On those days at work, I do the mindless, but necessary tasks – like filing or dealing with undertakings. At home, I also file or vacuum. You look like you’re busy. Another task is completed. And, if you are hung over or overtired, your brain doesn’t hurt doing these tasks.

4. Know when to fold ‘em (and know when to step over it). I do feel like I spend a lot of time cleaning but I admit that is probably mostly due to the fact that I hate to clean. I do what I need to do to not waste time looking for things and to keep CAS from knocking at my door to take my child to a more sanitary home. I make no apologies for Mount Laundry or the bathroom rings. I get to it when it gets too much for my sensibilities. Only a confirmed visit from my mother will get me in a tizzy. Everyone else knows I work long hours outside the house so I’m not expected to be June Cleaver.

5. Loved ones + same room = quality time. I make my 3 year old join me in the kitchen. She washes her own dishes or works the mixer for mashed potatoes. I make her do housework with me so often it’s not even fun for her anymore. But we’re together and we’re talking. Same goes with the sweet hubby. We do the dishes together or tag team the kid’s bedtime routine. We catch up on our day while we catch up on our housework. We also sit beside each other when we’re working at home. He is beside me right now. I decided to take the time to blog since he had real work to do. We bounce ideas off each other while we type. Sometimes I annoy him by sending him an instant message on skype. We flirt, we work, we connect – all at the same time.

6. Yes, you have a whole week to accomplish things. Again, I agree that 168 hours is a reasonable perspective. But for me, it means that where I don’t go to bed before 2 am one night, I’ll get to hit the hay at 9:30 another night during the week. Sadly, the early-to-sleep night is usually on Friday nights, sitting next to my daughter watching yet another Barbie movie, but we are together in our PJs for movie night. She’ll wake me for the scary parts.

7. Let people know what your bandwidth is. I have recently let my boss know that I am swamped at home. I let him know about my temporary time constraints due to a sick child. I didn’t ask for more time. I just let him know what I was working with. The extra time spent at work and the time needed at home were costing me sleep which might cost him, too, despite my best efforts. I was simply covering my butt. Related to my time constraints are my emotional constraints. If I’m not in the mood to deal with something, whether on a temporary or regular basis, then I let the people who would accept my moods know. I’m not so good in the morning so I’m not the best person to deal with the child at that time. The hubby takes care of her most mornings so I can wake slowly in the shower. He loves me so he knows this is what I’ve got to give. If it upset him, I would pick up the slack but this is time he’s okay spending. I’ll spend time doing what he’d rather not spend time on, like sorting bills.

Time ebbs and flows, anyway. The fall feels busy because the summer probably wasn’t that busy – at least not busy with unwanted obligations. While it is a 168 hour week, it is an 8,760 hour year. Down time will come, whether you schedule it or even whether you want it. Take advantage of the down time. Take advantage of the busy time (how many of us are even more productive the busier we are). Just don’t spend so much time trying to manage time.

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Networking Not Working

I’ve just rsvp’d to another networking event even though I’ve given up on the idea of “networking.” 

Penelope Trunk says that Generation Y doesn’t network because they see connecting with people, regardless of the capacity or arena, as being natural and normal.

I agree. I have attended many a “networking” event – remembering names, getting business cards, giving up my email address. However, the best career move I ever made was getting a dog. Forget awkward conversation starters. Conversation with the regular sleepy heads is effortless with the first puppy butt-sniff, moving from dog poo, to what you do for a living, to what you want out of life and how the other person can help you get there. Having a child you take to the park regularly is another “in” with people (but it takes longer to move on from the poo-talk stage than it is with dogs).

But these pseudo-networking scenarios are really about making new friends more than new, advantageous contacts. Generation Y thinks that everyone is their friend, from what I’ve observed (My 24 year old sister has so many friends I can hardly keep track of). 

I have enough friends (spoken like a Gen-Xer). I can barely keep in touch with the people I love. We all know typical networking events rarely pay off with a great contact that will lead to a great interview or job opportunity. So why bother going?

1. It’s about sniffing out the other dogs. All the people there to network are exactly the same people I’m in competition with for the jobs that are the topic of the event. Who are they? What are they wearing? How many degrees do they have or what are the cool bullet points of their resume? At the networking event, sniff around and size ‘em up.

2. It’s about getting to know the humans in charge. The keynote speakers or expert panelists that kick off any networking event are often there to pad their resumes in some capacity. Few actually want any of the attendees to contact them, even if he or she gives you a business card. But some speakers offer treats of information by way of dropping key industry names. Hearing about alternative pathways to get to the job or career you want can be an inspiring little nugget. Sometimes this information is directly useful. Other times the information does little more than make you feel better about the fact that you haven’t changed the world prior to embarking on the career path that is the subject of the event.

3. It’s about learning (or honing) a new trick. Whether you practice your elevator pitch or simply work on your ability to make eye contact, the networking event is a great place to do it. You can learn about how to do these kinds of things well from other people, particularly the speakers or panelists. Try new “networking” or “people” skills out and see how people react. Don’t worry about looking foolish because no one will remember you outside the context of “networking” because ultimately such events do not work to connect people at all.

Networking is not actually about work. It’s about focusing on that one area of your life with other people doing exactly the same thing. And being unapologetically enthusiastic about it, too. Chase that ball!

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No A**hole Zone

In any field where the people who work in the industry are celebrated for being the most aggressive, the most ruthless, the most blindly insensitive to feelings and basic human decency (law, marketing, television, etc.), you know how you can stand out? By being the Nice Guy.

Being the Nice Guy doesn’t mean being Mr. Accommodating, or Ms. Walk-All-Over-Me, or Mr. Please-Be-My-Friend, or Ms. Easy-Going.

It simply means not operating as though everything is a status play. Even when the opposition is dick swinging, it means keeping yours in your pants, no matter how big it actually is.

When you don’t play for status, your good reputation flourishes.

1. You are a better advocate if you give up acting like you are the Voice of Right. People will think that you actually have considered all sides to the argument or issue and have come up with the fairest, most rational position.

2. Your opinions have more weight when you don’t throw your weight around. People will think that your opinions have intrinsic value because you are not about self-aggrandizing.

3. When you are the willow tree others are forced to bend. It is hard to be rigid when faced with someone who is open to compromise. Even if a person is comfortable being the Alpha, that person just appears irrational in the face of someone who clearly, through compromise, recognizes that the situation at hand is nuanced.

4. And the “more flies with honey” -thing your mother told you about is true. It is exhausting to be on guard, anticipating an assault from an asshole. No one, even the assholes, want to be around such people. When people actually want to be around you they will do things to make themselves worthy of your presence – work harder for your approval, smell good, be good to others as you are to them in front of you. Yes, you can catch a lot of flies with shit but those shit-loving flies tend to be avoided by everyone else, so any ripple effect of your behaviour is limited.

My hiring boss is a Nice Guy. Drop his name in the right circles and people gush about his brilliance and skill. He is incredibly successful at what he does. He has surrounded himself with a team of people who want to help him build the firm to greatness (for mediocre pay, too). Everyone in the office works a little harder when he is around. And we all want to be more like him, which means that we are all trying to become better at what we do and we are enjoying working with each other.

The reviews of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t have been great. Haven’t read the book yet but I like what I’ve heard from the author. Perhaps this is a good place to start on the path of becoming a Nice Guy.

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Junior is to Assistant as Boyfriend is to “Friend”

When you start a junior position, there is the risk that you could end up functioning like an “assistant”. Assistants, in reality, get no respect, even if their boss or anyone else with who knows about that flies and honey adage sings their praises. Assistants support, help, encourage, and may even subtly guide people around them. Bosses, including juniors, direct, decide, mentor, and influence.

Yes, assistants are valuable, know everything, and can make your work life bearable. They can run interference for the boss wishing to avoid someone. They can protect you, make you look brilliant. With a good assistant, you can be your real, flawed self as you claw your way up the corporate food chain. And as an assistant,  you’re expected to accept the crap, clean it up, and be eager to do it all again the next day.

To me this seems like being relegated to “friend” status where you would rather be the boyfriend. Purse holding, being a surrogate date, pep talks, great advice, all without getting some schnogging. No schnogging is “no glory” . And with “friend” status, once you get, “I think of you more like a friend,” you can never recover from it. Same with being the “assistant”, particularly the unofficial kind. No one gets promoted out of “friend” or “assistant” status.

The best advice is to move on from that low status relationship if you want to be more-than-a-friend, if you want to be the main squeeze. Join a better firm, get a new date. The even better than the best advice is to not fall into the “friend”/assistant hole in the first place.

I am the lowest junior where I work. I know less than any assistant but, bottom line, I am there to one day be a boss of someone, perhaps even the assistants there. To really become a boss, I have to be viewed as having authority. If I am constantly getting the grunt work to “assist” someone else I a) will never get the high profile jobs where my abilities can be measured by people who matter, b) will never hone the skills to successfully engage in great, high profile work, c) will always be assumed to have never done anything on my own, particularly nothing of merit, and d) will never be thought of as being the source of a final positive outcome.  Without these moments to shine, I won’t get promoted. I will also feel miserable about being invisible for all the hard work being a good assistant requires.

How to avoid falling into the assistant/”friend” chasm:

1. Don’t freely, proactively give away your help. This I find particularly difficult to do. I am mom, I am a big sister, hell, I was a Brownie (“Help other people before yourself”). I am used to being infinitely helpful. Oftentimes without my help, things don’t get done. But if you are always carrying someone’s purse, they’ll start to expect it. When your hands are full, you can’t do anything to benefit yourself.

Today, I had to resist offering to summarize a document for one of my three bosses – the whirlwind boss. It would have saved him reading time so that he could handle the meat of the matter. If I had offered and he agreed, I would have taken time away from other work that I had to do. I would have also put myself at risk of not “helping” to his satisfaction – offering my work up for unnecessary criticism. Lastly, helping him be more efficient in his responsibilities only leaves him more time to throw more grunt work my way.

2. Allow people to suffer. Again as a mom, I have a hard time watching someone struggle to tie their shoe when I can do it for them. When I started at this job, I was thrown into the deep end. I could barely make heads or tales of even acronyms. I had to figure it out on my own. I had to (smartly) ask the assistants for their help. Three weeks later, the second junior started at the firm. If I just hand him everything I know, then it would look to the bosses like I was slow because it took me three weeks to learn and it only took him 10 minutes to figure it out.

3. When the bosses say something needs to get done asap, don’t do it. This I learned from Sweets-the-husband. Firstly, you can’t be seen to jump at someone else’s whim. That puts you extremely subordinate to that person which will reduce respect he or she has for you. Secondly, if that boss doesn’t acknowledge that you may have competing responsibilities and deadlines, he or she doesn’t respect your work and will never view it as valuable. Thirdly, if the boss doesn’t have the decency to really prioritize a matter in terms of time and importance, then you can’t put other things you know are of priority at risk of not getting done. That way you’ll really look incompetent.

4. Don’t be eager to please. Be eager to be right. When you try to be right, you can justify your errors. You can take ownership of things if they go well, if being right contravenes what the boss said or did. Either way, this puts you in high standing with your boss’ boss. It also shows that you have principals, are big picture and forward thinking. A bad boss will blame you if you are wrong. A bad boss will try to take the glory. But if you have an answer for why you did what you did beyond “Boss’ orders” then at least you get a really “A” for effort. “A+” if things work out. If things work out in contravention of boss’ orders, then the boss will be a little afraid of you at worst (fear can be good) and value your opinion at best.

Besides, simply trying to please someone will set you up for failure because you can never be that good of a mind reader to figure out exactly what the other person ‘would’ want. People change their minds and adapt. At best, you’ll always be a step behind and look even more incompetent. 

5. Don’t be too considerate. I’m fairly easy going. I am happy to hold a door open. If I’m getting coffee, I’ll get one for you. The coffee girl, unless she is offering something more than coffee, never gets a raise. The boss who hired me saved me from becoming the “coffee girl” on my first day. He was going down to buy a coffee. I wanted one for myself. He got caught up in a conversation with another equivalent boss. I said, “I can grab that for you.” He firmly said, no. They are not paying me to get coffee. They are paying me to think and contribute.

If got coffee on day one then first impression would be associated with the sweet drug of caffeine in the morning. The buzz of my satisfying a basic, human need would eclipse any new insight I could bring to the conversation that was taking place around the coffee. Same with holding the door open for everyone to go through first. Your potential sway slips through your fingers.

To avoid “friend” status, the same rules apply. Don’t offer to help her paint her house or carry her purse. Allow her to suffer from her mistakes. Particularly, if she has a crap boyfriend already, don’t be her shoulder to cry on. It simply makes his crap tolerable. It doesn’t make you look like the good guy. Don’t be at her beck and call (Simple The Rules stuff that people have been telling their single friends since Adam and Eve). Don’t be too considerate. Worse than being the one who gets the coffee is the expectation that you will always get the coffee  because that becomes your job. You are much more valuable than that.

You could be a really great boyfriend. You could be the ship-turning boss. Hold back a little. Leave them looking at you in anticipation of greater things.

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I judge therefore I am a mother

A young cousin of ours announced that she was pregnant. My instant, unfiltered reaction at the news – disappointment. She’s smart, educated and very talented. She’s in her twenties and though she’s not married, she’s very much in love with the father-to-be and he seems like a really good guy. Also, our cousin, without a doubt, would make a great mom. With that great mixture of a sense-of-humour, patience, practicality and a heart open to forgiveness and self-awareness, I know that I’m still working on the qualities that she possesses.

Nonetheless, before I thought about her parenting potential, I felt that she was ignoring her potential for greatness to just be another woman having a baby.

I felt the same way when a neighbour/friend of ours told me that she had stopped paying her law society fees. She was a superstar criminal defence attorney – on the rise. She was still talked about at the law school and there were lawyers who would have totally paid her tons of money if they thought they could lure  her from solo practice. This woman also worked, on the ground, for women’s rights under the law in a war-torn country. Now she tells me that if she wants to stay at home with her child and have more children.

I am a mother who is blessed to have a bright, healthy, happy child.  I’m having severe baby pangs because we want to have a second but it would be completely irresponsible at this time given the current state of our finances. My husband and I are counting down the months until we are on more solid ground before we make another baby. So why am I instantly dismissive of other people desires and efforts to be moms? I’m a hypocrite.

  1. My head and my heart are divided on the value of mothering. And as I type this I don’t really know what the position is of my head and my heart. I know that being a good parent and raising a good child might well be my most important contribution to the planet. I know that it is really tough job, much tougher and longer lasting than any paid work you could think of. However, I’m the same person who, last year when I was between jobs and, as a result couldn’t afford full time daycare, carried around my CBC badge. I’m only a casual worker there for one, two-hour weekend show, yet I carried my badge to get into the building  just in case (in case what, I don’t know – lost my purse, got hit by a bus?). I wanted to be known as someone who had a job. A paid job.I cringe when really talented woman, with obvious potential for greatness in whatever their chosen career, decide to focus on children. A good mom is loving and attentive. Though such a mom should be appreciated, she’s not that rare. I have a good mom. So does my husband. So do most of my friends. Few of my friends are scarred by the Joan Crawford’s of the world (and my mother never thought that she was so bad – “for God’s sake, she  said not to use the wire coat hangers.”)
  2. I have become aware that you can have it all… but not all at once. I panicked at 30 and thought that I needed to have a kid now before it was too late. I had this panic during first year law school. Being pregnant and having a baby, let alone the work of a new marriage (and no matter how much love there is, it is still work to share your life) was all so much more difficult and energy consuming than I ever imagined. It’s not like I was told it would be otherwise. Because I was arrogant enough to think that I was stronger and more capable than everyone who offered advice, I didn’t even ask for help when I desperately needed it.Now I feel like I have short-sheeted my career, and by extension, my financial success. With the stress and the time sacrifices having a family requires I struggled in school and have had difficulty throughout the lawyer licensing process. I am 34 and now earn what I earned 10 years ago because I’m starting out yet again.

    I am one of those people of whom friends and family expect great things. Now, I worry that I won’t even fulfill my own expectations. At this stage in my career, I simply cannot get in early, stay late, and do it for free. I can’t have drinks on a last minute request with the right people after work. I don’t even have time to watch the reality shows the cool kids are talking about around the water cooler so that be seen as personable at work. My kid won’t go to bed before 10 pm. I have dishes to wash and laundry to fold after she finally stops calling for us after we kiss her goodnight. If I hit my own bed before 12:30 am it is a blessing. Then I am up again at 5:50 am. Has anyone won a Nobel Prize under such circumstances?

  3. No one ever talks about how great Einstein’s mother was. If you did your job as a mother well, and your kid grows up to be a celebrated public figure or a well-loved neighbour, worker or friend, no one will ever think of  you or laud your effort. You are invisible.

    I am also aware that there is much in the success of the child that can’t be attributed to mom. Hell, even on basic levels. I can give no one advice on potty training because one day my child just decided that she would use the toilet like a big girl. I had tried for months but to no avail. One day I handed the babysitter princess stickers to dole out as I had been doing at home for a while. Two days later, my kid was out of pull ups.

I have been feeling guilty about my hypocrisy of wanting to be a mom, yet hesitating, even for a nanosecond, to celebrate with someone who wants to dedicate themselves to mothering.

Last night, my Sweet P, who is so good about guiding me towards being a good person said something that made me think.

“No, whether it is to a career or anything else, really means, ‘not now’”. At first blush, his statement allowed me to still hope that these women would eventually return to a public life and have measurable, public success. But, as I thought about his words they reminded me that I have no business judging when, where, or why someone takes the steps they do when their goal is simply to be the best that they can be. And what they want to be the best at is not for me to say. I don’t know what “now” is for anyone else but me.

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Given the choice – I would still work

A couple of weeks ago, Alberta’s Minister of Finance and Enterprise, Iris Evans, said that having one parent stay at home was “raising kids properly.” Naturally a public brouhaha followed. What gets me is that many of the outraged comments I read and heard over the minister’s speech were from people who simply said that they “had no choice but to work”, which was why they had dual income households.

Without being broke, living in a very expensive city and having stunningly large student debt, you know what I’d do? I’d go to work. 

It’s not that going to work makes me happy which, in turn, makes me a happier mum. Going to work isn’t fun. I’m not following my passion (mostly because I still don’t know what that is). At the moment, I spend no less than 8.5 hours per weekday just trying to keep my head above the paper files and email.

But all that is damn easier than being at home, all day, every day and taking care of my child. 

I have a fantastic kid. Healthy, smart and beautiful, inside and out. Everyday she does something that makes me laugh or roll my eyes. I talk about her constantly at work and as I get close to quitting time I think about how she’ll greet me when I pick her up from the sitter’s (“MAAW-MEE”).

Yet, her loveliness and my strong desire to be a good and involved parent aren’t enough to get me to give up the baby-sitter and the subway ride to the office. Staying at home would not make me a better parent.

  1. The division of labour between myself and my  husband would be even more stark. If I am in the home all day, with no deadlines or obligations to third parties, how could I expect my guy to cook, clean, fold laundry or even mow the lawn when he comes home from work, likely after having to slog more than 44 hours/week because one income leaves the family in a more precarious position than two?Next imagine having absolutely no break in all things domestic. Even when the disparity in our income and time commitments forced me to do the lion’s share of housework, he was still occasionally motivated by guilt to let me have a cup of tea while he did the dishes. A blessed break from the responsibility of doing, I’ll say it, menial work goes a long way in making it easier for you to do it when it absolutely has to get done.
  2. Cooking and cleaning are the Sysyphean tasks eternally to be undone by children. And at some point you’ll snap because they make a mess faster than you can turn around. Already, a good portion of our Saturdays are spent picking up after the chaos of the week. Nothing drives me bonkers faster than having the kid pull out the Play-Doh in the living room after I’ve dusted, wiped and vacuumed.
  3. Good or bad at domestic management, it is thankless. If you are good at keeping up with the cooking and the cleaning, there is the expectation on the part of family and friends that it is effortless at best or simply “all as it should be” at worst. When I was at home with the infant, the husband would leave his coffee cup on the TV every morning and leave his collared shirt on the floor every night. And never did he notice that he didn’t have a pile of cups and shirts around him. He never thanked me for picking up after him, nor did he stop throwing his things around. If I chose to teach him a lesson and not pick up, or if I simply couldn’t keep up, it would seem as though my inability to complete my mindless tasks between the hours of Ellen and Oprah was a sign that something is profoundly wrong with me – perhaps believed to be depression at best or not actually loving my family at worst.
  4. And the child – Dora The Explorer ain’t that interesting. I like to talk to grown ups about ideas, about things, about people. There are opinions I’d like to hear and my own that I’d like to articulate. My kid does not care about my views on labour relations during our weakened economy. My child has no thoughts as to whether Michael Jackson truly was a genius or whether he was simply the puppet of a more talented Barry Gordy or Quincy Jones. And, because I’m either cooking, cleaning or playing with the child, there is little time for me to even consider ideas such as these or get informed.

I admit that I mostly focused on cooking and cleaning because these are things about which I can’t even find a good thing to say. However, just to focus on parenting, if I stayed with the kid 24 hours a day, the bloom of her loveliness would surely wear off. She’s a kid. She breaks things, she yells, she whines. She makes demands. She willingly watches Fairytopia 37 times in a row.  I’d probably end up punishing her more often. The poor thing would end up spending hours in the corner, 3 minute stretches at a time.

She would also see my flaws. She’d see that I get frustrated easily, that I obsess about things and I can be judgmental of friends and strangers alike. She’d be witness to the fact that mosly I selfishly want to eat cereal for every meal and let the others in my family fend for themselves.

My kid would see all the ways I can be a bad mother. So it is better that I spend my negative energy at the office. That way, my child gets the best of me and I focus on the best of her.

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My life is NOT a highway – Yippee

Day 4 of the new job and I have noticed that coming home, I feel like I have tons of time. I’m not walking through the door any sooner. I’m still at the office past official quitting time. I still have to resist bringing work home from the day job. This week I had freelance work I needed to do by a deadline of this morning so I was up late the last two nights.

So why am I not feeling like everything is go go go. Like I’m the White Rabbit panicked about being late. I’m not distressed that there’s no time to make dinner, do laundry, play in the park or, or, or, a billion of other things that have to get done. The difference is…I’m not driving to and from work. 

I have even taken a path home that has me above ground rather than feeling crunched by the subway rat race at rush hour. I’m not even listening to the iPod. I just,<sigh>, <breathe>, read.  I freakin’ love it!

No more feeling like I’m stealing time to do something for myself. I CAN’T do anything for anyone else during my 30 minute bus ride, including watching out for other drivers or checking my blind spot. 

Penelope Trunk recently cited an older-post of hers about cautioning people to consider the commute before taking a job. She’s right. We are terribly broke and my husband and I have to take on freelance work after our day jobs just to make ends meet, but we work from home at our extra jobs. We sit at our respective computers, a cup of tea each on a kiddie chair or some ice cream after dinner. We take turns going upstairs to deal with our kid’s efforts to evade bedtime. Staying up past midnight, only to wake up at 6 am for another job is waaay better than sitting in traffic for 4 hours a day. Only a huge salary that would allow us to have a live-in nanny and housekeeper AND if one of us is not commuting could cause the sanity scales in favour of commuting.

No commuting. May it never be necessary for me to drive to work again.

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Looking for work is like looking for a boyfriend

I have just found a new job. More than a new job, I found the coveted articling position. When applying to law school, everything I read made it sound like finding an article was a simple, inevitable fact, as done a deal as getting your degree once you’ve passed all the exams. And maybe it was a sure thing a few decades ago. Also, those who have easily secured an articling position make it sound just as easy.

So for the thousands of us who did not have our pick of Bay Street law firms offering $80,000 per year to essentially write memos and copy edit prospectuses (propsecti?), we feel like losers. I, for one, spent a long time wondering what was wrong with me. Like a girl with low self-esteem who only has one leg who hasn’t been asked to the prom, I blamed my inability to get an interview on my handicap of having mediocre grades. 

But I did get hired eventually. So what does that mean? My employer does not have low standards. In fact, the partner who hired me said my grades were pretty good. He was pretty clear on why he hired me – my grades, my work experience, my fantastic cover letter, my maturity. These are reasons why anyone would hire anyone who didn’t owe someone a favour. So why this firm? Why now?

Since I accepted the position, friends who know people still looking for an articling job have been forwarding email my way so that I can give these desperate searchers advice. Here’s the advice I’ve been giving: I don’t have any answers.

I don’t have any more answers for finding a job, article or not, than I do for how I found my husband or any boyfriend previous. I figure the experience of searching for a job or a boyfriend are pretty much the same thing. In either circumstance can’t you make someone pick you, particularly if you want a relationship for the long haul.

All you can do is be desirable. Being desirable requires working at being desirable. All desirable does is keep you from being miserable. And faith has us believe that being miserable decreases your chances of being desired (though we all know exceptions to that – the incompetent asshole who keeps getting promoted and the hideous bitch who manages to have a really nice, attractive guy).

The obvious advice to getting a boyfriend and landing a job is:

  1. Try to be good looking. Lose weight, dress as best you can, smell nice. And not too much of any of those things lest you be considered too high maintenance or unattainable. In the world of work the equivalent of unattainable is overqualified, which can be as much an appearance assumption as it is an assumption based on your resume.
  2. Be interesting. Read books, follow the news, have opinions. Run a marathon, knit for the neo-natal ward. Just do something. This is good for you for so many reasons – great to add to resume, or talk about in an interview or date, or to meet new people, or to get the endorphins going, or even to be too busy to feel sorry for your single/jobless self.
  3. Put yourself out there…but only to whatever degree you feel most comfortable. If you aren’t committed to your self-promotion you just come off as either desperate or, the opposite, unmotivated. Anytime you talk about yourself, you are promoting yourself. Don’t get caught up in the negative connotation of the term. If you don’t work LinkedIn, it won’t work for you. Same with your Lavalife profile. Going to a bar or a job fair won’t work if you don’t feel comfortable in that setting. You have to want to be there. Even if there are no biters, you have to enjoy the talking, the lurking, or simply the sights and sounds.

I have read advice blogs, self-help books, watched Oprah, and talked to every friend I have – on both fronts. I can point to nothing that has directly helped to get someone to say that they wanted me. The cliches are true – love and work will happen when they happen. Stop stressing about it. The stress only makes it worse.

“Tell that to your landlord or your biological clock.” I know. But there’s little you can do about the situation more than what I’ve said here. If you lower your standards because you’re desperate – take that Walmart job or go out with next warm body that bumps into you on the subway, you are simply delaying your happiness.

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