June 2, 2010

Dogs Bleed When in Heat...and Other Things My First Job Taught Me, Part One

I have mentioned in the past that the only job I really loved was the bookstore gig. Unfortunately, it paid in crackers (that is to say, the snack food...not the white people). In order to support myself and Kayden (the toddler edition), I had to find a grown-up job. After a bit of searching, I found it: receptionist/office manager for a business consulting office. My salary doubled instantly. I no longer worked at night. I swapped my jeans and flip-flops for skirts and heels. I was a career woman at 20 years old.

However, I quickly learned that the corporate world was not as glamorous as it appeared from the outside. I was thrown into the mix and forced to learn several lessons very quickly.

Whatever happened to the last person in your position will happen to you too.

"What happened to Amber?" I asked a coworker one day, after finding personal photos and documents still on the computer I now occupied. "Oh, she didn't work out," he replied, then quickly walked away, halting any further questions in their tracks. I questioned another coworker, who responded cryptically, "She and Boss didn't really...get along." Was it something she did...or didn't do? Was she fired? Did she quit? Was she murdered with a double-pronged file folder? I couldn't figure it out. But here's the lesson: investigate what fate had befallen him or him, because it will likely become your own future.

You will work while sick or injured. Concussions are no exception.

Even if you are vomiting all over your desk, you better be answering that phone in between heaves. And if you absolutely must take a sick day, you will have to provide a doctor's note the following day. Injuries are not exempt from this rule, by the by.

Boss had two large dogs she brought to the office each day. One day, Boss and I met in the conference room to discuss my annual review. Unbeknownst to me, boy-dog had also come in the room and lay down for a nap directly beside my chair. After a thoroughly positive discussion, I stood up to return to my desk. While still talking with Boss, I took a step, tripped over the large, sleeping dog, and hit the floor.

Boy-dog= 1, Kelli = 0.

The next morning, I awoke with a blinding headache, but still I tried to get ready for work. Headaches were no excuse for missing work, you know! As I walked to the bathroom to get ready, everything went black and I was standing at the dresser instead. I tried again, only to find myself in the dining room, with a thong wrapped around my ankle. I said to Josh (my fiancé at the time), "I have a really bad headache and my neck hurts and I'm really disoriented." Instead, this is what came out, "Mmm...lulllull...neck-nache...mmm..." Then I started crying.

A visit to the doctor showed that my drop to the floor had caused a concussion. After a physical examination (in which I begged the doctor for a note to give to Boss) and a cat scan to ensure my brain wasn't spitting blood, I was sent home and told to rest. By the next day, though, I was terrified that I would be fired for missing two days in a row, so I went in.

Boss read the doctor's note and declared, "I don't know how you got a concussion, but it wasn't while you were working yesterday." (I found out later that she was worried I would try to sue her or file for Workers' Comp.)

Innocently, I said, "Yeah, it was from when I tripped over the—"

"No, you didn't even hit your head! I saw it."

I replied, "I know, but the doctor said that you don't actually have to hit your head to get a concussion. Just the jarring can do it."

Boss paused, then pulled out the big guns, "Well, are you okay to work? I can't have you here if you're going to fall over or something. I can bring in a temp..."

(Which reminds me of another thing I learned: "bringing in a temp" is actually an implied threat. This means, "If you can't do your job, I will find someone else who can.")

"I'm okay," I insisted, then swallowed a double dose of Tylenol once she returned to her office.

When somebody asks how you're doing, say "fine" or "great" or "good," followed by a smile. Those are your only options.

Even if your cat just died and you still have its blood on your hands, you cannot stray from these options. I used to think that "How are you today?" was like a conversation starter: "Oh, I'm frustrated, because blah blah blah" or "I'm okay...kind of blah blah blah." Then one day, my boss cut me off and said, "When I ask how you're doing, I don't actually care how you're doing. I'm not your friend; I'm your boss. I just want to hear that you're doing great." That stung, but it proved to be a valuable lesson.

Stay tuned for Part Two: snotty teenagers, bounced checks, and dog blood.

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