Life change cake

Yesterday was the icing on the cake. I don’t know where the cherry is. And if yesterday was the icing, then I don’t know if that means the cherry is good or bad.

The cake is a multi layer cake.

One layer is made up of a car dying and having to buy new car. I’d paid it off and become very fond of it. It was cute and familiar. I wasn’t planning on buying a new car. For a while we had two car payments, and I was grateful to not have any. I was using the extra money to pay off the mortgage sooner. But I have to have a reliable car, and one that won’t start isn’t acceptable, especially when the dealership can’t even tell me what was causing the problem. Since they didn’t know, they couldn’t fix it. They got it running, for another day, and then it wouldn’t start. I’m grateful that it failed to start while I was at home – so I wasn’t stranded doing errands or at work.

Another layer is finding out that I’m being transferred to another branch a week later. I’ve worked at the same place for almost 15 years. That’s a third of my life. I created the order and routine of the branch I came from. It’s a huge loss to have to go somewhere else. I’m grateful it is close to my home and in a safe neighborhood.

Another layer is the loss of my normal schedule. Because this other library is on an opposite schedule of opening and closing I can’t go to my exercise class like I used to. All the people that I knew at work and at working out are gone to me.

I might as well have moved to another country for the amount of loss that I am experiencing. It would’ve helped if the other branch had even welcomed me. But there was no welcoming note, no welcoming words, not even my desk was cleaned off. It was like it was a catchall for debris. I hate being the only person who is sensitive to other people’s feelings who thinks about how hard things are and is considerate so that they feel welcome and included. I hate feeling so deeply.

Adding to that is that I’m at a place that has three people, and only two do the work. The manager sits in his office and types at his computer, only coming out of his office to go to lunch or yell at the kids when they are loud. I’d love to have a job where I could get paid, yet do my own work (like write books) for 8 hours a day, like he has. But then I’d feel that I’d feel guilty about it, because I know that I’m not doing my real job.

I was reading Proverbs this morning and came across some parts that are applicable. (All translations are HCSB)

Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;”
To me, this means that I don’t need to worry about this. To rely upon my own understanding is to say that I’m wiser than God. Ultimately it would mean that I’m setting myself up as an idol. The height of idolatry is to worship yourself. Sadly, a lot of today’s new religious leaders are saying just that. I’ll go further into that another day.

Proverbs 3:31 “Don’t envy a violent man or choose any of his ways;”
I’m taking this to mean more than just violent. I’m taking it to mean someone who shirks his responsibility. I should do my job and not follow the way of someone who isn’t doing his, as I know it to be bad. However, I won’t do extra or wipe myself out to get it all done, either. If I do more than my share, it will not be obvious that he’s not doing his. Upper management knows what is happening but they aren’t doing anything about it. I don’t know why, but I have to trust that God is in charge.

And then I read this, and it confirmed my feelings.
Proverbs 3:35 “The wise will inherit honor, but He holds up fools to dishonor.”

It doesn’t make it a lot easier. I still have to figure out how to live with this situation. I’ve spent a lot of my life with similar bosses.

Jesus teaches us that the best boss is also a worker. When he washed the feet of his disciples, he was teaching them that they needed to lower themselves from thinking they were above everybody. He was teaching them that they had to see themselves as equals. Everybody has to do “the dirty work”.

Sadly, many managers, even ones that are Christian, don’t seem to get this. It draws resentment upon them. Even if they are paid more, they aren’t respected more. I knew a lady who retired after 40 years of “work” and not one of her employees attended her retirement party. There were a lot of people there, but they were her friends – nobody she had worked with or “managed”. Sure, she got paid more than her employees, but she was overdrawn in the respect department.

I’d rather be paid in respect. I’d rather be paid in knowing that I did my best, rather than cheating the system. I’d rather know that the money I make I made honestly.


People have a habit of coming up to me and telling me the most amazing things. These are really deep, dark, personal things that are very private. I’ve taken classes on how to deal with this because it happened so often. I believe that since people are handing me very heavy stories, it is important that I learn how to receive them and carry them in a way that is safe for me. I believe it is also important to make sure that I handle what they have had to say in a way that is respectful to them. There are many ways to do this incorrectly.

I’m sure all of us have had the experience of when we say something really private and personal to someone that they will say something insensitive such as “Oh something worse happened to me,” or “Oh, it’ll get better,” or “It’s not that bad.” It is important not to diminish a person or minimize their pain. But it is also important not to attempt to fix them. Sometimes (often) the most healing thing you can do is simply to listen.

I know several people who have gone on to become professional counselors because the same thing happens to them. They get paid to listen to people tell their secrets and fears. I feel that to turn such a private and personal and beautiful experience into a transaction cheapens it. I believe that it is exactly the same as the difference between making love and being a prostitute. It has turned a very private and intimate experience between two people into a mechanical thing that has money involved.

Perhaps the answer is that people need to all be trained how to talk honestly, and how to listen with open hearts. We need to share with each other. The relationship needs to be two-sided, equal. And then people need healthy places to share.

Sharing with the bank teller or the store clerk isn’t healthy or equal. The employee is trapped there and is not allowed to share how she is feeling. They are not trained in this either. There need to be meeting areas where people can gather and speak on equal ground.

People aren’t pieces – on management

Don’t ask an employee an opinion if they can’t say no. It is a waste of time and fools them into thinking that management cares. When they realize that their answer meant nothing and wasn’t considered, they will feel betrayed. Then they won’t trust anything else that comes from management, and the team isn’t a team anymore.

Sometimes the employee realizes that the only answer that is acceptable is “Yes, that is a great idea!” even if they know it is a terrible one. Sometimes it is simpler to go along and pretend that it is going to work out even if you know from years of experience that it is not. If you argue, you are the squeaky wheel, and you won’t get grease, you’ll get the axe.

Now, nobody wants a curmudgeon. Management doesn’t like an employee who fights against change just because it is change. But we all hate “Yes-men” as well. We hate people who agree to anything just to suck up. So there has to be a middle ground.

Working together on a project as a group is important. We all have to be rowing in the same direction if we want the boat to go straight. We’ll be dead in the water if the people doing the rowing (the workers, not the management) don’t know where they are going. If they feel betrayed and lost enough, they might be actively working against the change. It is up to the leader to earn the trust of the team, rather than just crack the whip.

New managers would do well to take time to get to know the rhythms and patterns of the departments they are assigned to lead. If they have never done the job that their team does, they need to do it. They need to see for themselves what works and what doesn’t. They also need to show the team that they know what they are talking about. No team member trusts a manager who gives directions who doesn’t know how to do their job.

If the manager has done the job that their underlings are doing, but at another building, she needs to come at it with fresh eyes. Different franchises do things different ways, even if they are supposed to do them the same. Sometimes the different ways are better. Sometimes they make more sense for that location. Saying “But we did it this way at my old place” will only get more pushback, because you aren’t there anymore.

One of the fastest ways to ruin trust is to start making big changes right away without consulting the people who have been there a long time. They know from experience what will work and what won’t. They are also the people who are going to have to implement those changes, so they need to be in agreement with them or they won’t get done. If they can’t understand them, they will be unable to do them. If the new changes are impossible to do then they won’t happen either. Management can’t know what won’t work if they don’t allow employees to be honest, or do the same job as the employee. You can’t change a boat’s direction midstream without people falling into the water and drowning.

It is important to remember that people spend more time at work than they do at home. Most of the hours spent at home are asleep, so they don’t count. 40 hours a week with people you didn’t choose to be with is hard. Changes made to the workflow, environment, or polices at the workplace are far-reaching. They affect the morale and psyche of the employees, especially if they have been there a long time. It is the same as going into a person’s house and redecorating without their permission. They won’t know where anything is. They won’t feel settled. They won’t know their place. Then, instead of improving workflow, you’ve just halted it.

Big changes can result in trauma. Trauma occurs when something huge and unexpected happens that feels unfair and unjust. Everything that you knew to be true is now up for grabs. Nothing makes sense. There is a sense of betrayal and loss of trust. People who are experiencing trauma feel like ships lost at sea, with no guidance and no security.

A good manager, like a good captain of a ship, gets everybody working together and in the same direction. It takes time to build up that level of trust. People don’t respect the title or the position. They respect the person – and they can’t respect what they don’t know. They need to know that you are fair, you can be trusted, and you know what you are asking them to do. They need to know that the changes you are asking them to implement are necessary and helpful and not arbitrary. They need to know that their opinion, experience, and input matters. Mostly, they need to be treated as unique and important people, and not cogs in a machine. People aren’t pieces.

Focus – on management and praise

Oprah Winfrey says that what you focus on expands, and this is extremely important to appreciate when it comes to dealing with people. Whether you are a teacher or a manager, this approach can make all the difference.

One of the best things you can do is praise someone when they are doing something good. Even if what they are doing is their everyday task, praise them. If you are a manager, you could tell them you appreciate that they make it a priority to come in on time, use their time well, are polite to the customers. Don’t wait to praise them for extraordinary acts. If the only time you speak to them is to tell them what to do and when they have done it wrong, you won’t ever see exceptional work.

Praise costs nothing, and reaps huge dividends.

Consider dog training. If you only give attention and energy to the dog when it is making a mistake or performing an undesirable action, that is all you will see. Not just because that is where your attention is, but also because that is where he is getting your energy. Dogs, like people, want energy. If they can’t get it in a positive way, they will seek it in a negative way. Being yelled at for doing something wrong is still better than being ignored for doing something right.

You may think “Why should I praise someone for doing their job?” Because that is your job. That is what a manager is supposed to do. Managers aren’t just there to direct traffic – they are there to make sure things go smoothly. Praise is the grease that oils the wheels.

One of the worst things you can do is tell your staff you are going to send “mystery shoppers”. This makes them feel threatened. It encourages them to act better only out of fear. Fear is a terrible motivator. If you have to use mystery shoppers, have them only report when a staff member is doing a good job. It doesn’t have to be exceptional. It just has to be good. If you do that, it will encourage them to be good for the sake of getting caught being good. There will be a benefit, a payoff, a reward for doing good work.

Singling out one or two people for praise out of a large group is great for those few people and terrible for the rest of the team. If ten people out of three hundred get awards or recognition, then what does that do to the morale of the rest of the group? Consider what they do in Special Olympics. Everybody gets an award.

Make awards and recognition meaningful and specific. If everybody gets the same award, then it becomes meaningless. People like to be noticed for their differences and individuality. If you pay attention to how they are special, they will feel appreciated and noticed. They will cease being a cog in the machine.