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Just a regular update

I had a birthday. I was shown love through many birthday wishes and some choice, VERY thoughtful gifts.

So, now I am officially 35. I’ve been saying it for like 6 months. But, now I can officially say it. I was told today it’s a rite of passage.

I’ve written about how I imagined 35 before. I started a fiction, maybe two years ago, as a means to process day to day things. Perhaps a phrase struck me in a conversation but I really wanted to anonymize the situation… so instead of saying something like “a person close to me” or “he” or “she”, I created little fictions. The fictions weren’t very good, thinking in full context, but they were a lot of fun to write. I could project. I could fantasize about what something would be like. I was able to tell a story … just for the sake of story. The hard part was making it coherent. I wrote in fragments, so I didn’t always remember what I said. I started keeping a simple log of timelines, but I still didn’t get all the details right. Then, there was the redundancy, so reading it all together it was… well… boring.

It was a much safer way to digest the work, the family, the club scenarios I couldn’t make sense of and had to process in order to understand. There was a picture floating around Pinterest the other day that said something like, “I don’t know what I think until I read what I write.”

So, what do I think right now? I think I’m a year older. I still like being in my 30s. It still feels young and adventurous, even though I don’t feel as adventurous these days. It feels full of potential and promise, while at the same time angst and frustration over not having accomplished anythign super significant. If you look at my life through a certain lens, you could argue that’s a bunk, silly, illogical thought. But, I’m thinking about it through the paid lens. I’m at a job without a title that means much. I’m at a payscale that fails to pay off my loans, productively. I’m maxed out with my roles trying to seek fulfillment bouncing between paid work, three volunteer roles, motherhood, and wifedom. It’s full, but it’s not wholly fulfilling because I crave more. So, that’s 35 for me.

Perhaps my 35-year-resolution should be to secure that role. Secure that place where I can get more fulfillment from fewer roles. So, what can go and what can’t go? Mother and wife are here to stay, so that’s a minimum of two roles. I love volunteering, but I splice my volunteering to get fulfillment for the things that matter to me: people (social change), food (food security/sustainability), and environmentalism (stewardship/sustainability). I amass skills that heighten my big picture awareness, but they don’t give me a lot of depth in a specialty. It makes it difficult applying for jobs that focus on a specialty – a specialty that I know a lot about but have difficulty explaining the required depth.

And the computer died, so the end.

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The Impossible Work Life Balance

Snuggly fun while waiting for Daddy-monster to get home.

This post is written in response to a recent Anne-Marie Slaughter article, published in The Atlantic.

It feels like this, often. Even when I wasn’t working (outside the home). So, let’s cover the things I enjoy first.

I enjoy watching my son grow up.

I am thankful that I was able to spend his first three years of life at home, watching him crawl, walk, talk.

I am grateful that I was able to learn how he learns, with his observations, and his trying, and his silly ways.

I love watching his imagination bloom. I wish had a voice recorder at hand all the time (my iPhone isn’t with me every moment) to catch the silly things.

I love how his “story telling” voice is different from his “normal” voice (Once upon a time…).

My son is one of the neatest people I have ever met.

But, parenting isn’t born without its challenges. It’s hard raising a small person into a respectful adult. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes consistency. It takes persistence. It takes proactive notions to work with all those involved in his life.

And, that’s just raising one child. That doesn’t include nurturing the marriage, other relationships, the house, the food… and the career.

My son wasn’t planned, though every day he is wanted, and loved, and cherished. But, I didn’t choose this. I never thought I would even be able to conceive and an act of ignorance is blessed with surprise. I always wanted a career – to change the world – and because I never thought I could have children, I never seriously considered the joy or the challenges in raising one. I know I offered my mother challenges. I know she struggled, deeply, with the work life balance. I’m not sure my mother ever imagined a “career”, and as such, my mother chose a path that chose a job to pay the bills. It was hard. And, the path I am now on, an attempt at a career while being mother, is as hard.

Workplace flexibility, at my job, is limited. So, while my husband worked at his job, with no workplace flexibility, in the fall – I was the soccer mom. I was the one who had to leave work early to pick up my son to rush him off to soccer practice. And, work was unkind, saying things to co-workers but never to my face.

And, when I am the only one, because my husband’s work has (again) no flexibility, to take him to dental appointments and other health related things, I have to get it pre-approved, instead of just taking care of my family.

When I was staying home, it often felt like I was choosing housework And, to boot, it’s an unfulfilling job.

The choices seem impossible.

I want it all. I want to change the world, and get paid doing it. I want to be there for my son, my husband, and my community. I want to have quiet time for myself so I can make sense of it all.

And, where I am stuck is in finding a career that will honor my divergent needs and interests.

Where do you struggle in the work life balance? What do you love about parenting? Where do you find your joy?


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How to be a Good Receptionist

Being a good receptionist requires a cheery disposition, calm demeanor, and a general willingness to help anyone.

Someone close to me just got a new job. The job title is below her skill level, but it’s a necessary one for the office in which she will be working. This person generally likes to focus on one thing at a time, so this job, while she can do it, will provide her with some specific challenges. So, I asked her if she wanted two to three tips… and I realized I had a lot to say on the subject.

One: Always Greet People with a Smile on Your Face

It’s true. People can hear the smile in your voice when you answer the phone with a smile on your face. This oft low paid position, is one of the most important an organization can have. This person who is hired as the receptionist is the face of your organization. Sure, you can argue that the CEO, or the Director, or the top Doc really is the face of the organization. However, everyday clients are not interacting with the top dog. Everyday clients are interacting with your staff. So, it is crucially important that this staff have the right attitude, and it is crucial that this attitude is reflected in every interaction.

I told the person close to me that “Grace Under Pressure” should become her motto. She should live it. She should breathe it. She should love it. If it’s a busy office, people will be coming at her from all directions. She will be interrupted frequently. She will be asked to do things immediately, without regard to the tasks that are already on her plate. So, through it all, she must smile, be graceful, and be as helpful as possible.

This attitude will make sure that all clients hold the organization in high esteem.

Two: Stay Organized

So, amid the crazy, how do you keep track of it all? Recent studies have shown that multitasking doesn’t exist. I recall it was argued that even computers can’t multitask, truly doing two things simultaneously  So, if that’s true, and if a computer can’t even multitask, how can we as inferior humans? Other brain studies have shown that multitasking is even harmful to our health. And, if you’re an introvert, being interrupted all the time (amidst this multitasking) puts you at even greater risk for doing a poor job instead of a good job.

The only solution I have found to keep everything organized, and out of your head so it’s searchable, is to write it down. The question then begs: What is the best organizational system for you?

I’ve used two systems that work well in this role that I will detail.

The Notebook System

In one role, the entire organization used 8.5″ x 5.5″, college ruled, 3 subject notebooks to organize their jobs. It didn’t matter if it was the Executive Vice President, a foreman on a job site far away, or a project manager  The founder of the company dictated that was the process, and it continued long after he let go of the company.

As the receptionist, my job was to number all the pages. So, you start with a numbered, 8.5″ x 5.5″, college ruled, 3 subject notebook. It’d be a great task to do during one of your favorite evening television shows. Then, you use it to write everything down.

Start your day, open up your notebook, write the date in at the top. Now, write everything down. Your job is greeting people and answering the phone. So, write down all conversations, as they happen. This will allow you to have a record of everything that’s happened. So, when someone asks you about Jane Doe and her appointment, you can go back to that day that the appointment was made and make notes about it. If you’re slow at a computer, this will allow you to have a written back up before you get all the details in the computer. If you need to take a message, this will allow you to take all the notes before transposing them on the message pad.

You might wonder if this sounds like a lot of duplication. It might be. But, you’ll be glad for that duplication when you’ve forgotten something and it’s in this journal.

The Planner System

A spin on the notebook system is the more sophisticated planner system. You might wonder, “Who uses planners in this day of smartphones?” People who need to write things down, that’s who. There is something very significant about using a pen and writing something down on paper that makes the brain remember it more.

The planner system often comes with predated pages, monthly tabs, and many more fun organizing tools. My favorite system is the Franklin Covey Planner and its subsequent system. With the planner system, you won’t need to write page numbers or dates. You can buy notepads to go inside to supplement when your day runs out of paper. You do the same thing as above, write everything down. I will sometimes bring out the colored pens and highlighters to make things even more organized (and pretty too).

Three: Know Your Needs

Because there are a lot of demands on a receptionist, it is important for someone in that role to really understand their own needs.

  • How often do you get hungry? Are you making sure you’re well nourished? Do you have enough water?
  • How often do you have to take bio-breaks, you know, go potty? Are you expected to take the phone with you, or can someone cover for you so you can take care of your own needs?
  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you get your energy refreshed around people or alone? Know this, and make sure your federally required breaks work around your schedule. If you’re an hourly employee, the law says you get two paid 15 minute breaks and one unpaid 30 minute lunch for every 6 hours you work. Take them. You deserve them.

As long as you are clear about your understanding of the role, others understand your role, and you are clear about your own needs, there isn’t any reason you should not thrive in this role. That is, control the controllables and you will be set for success! It is your responsibility to understand yourself. It is your responsibility to request needs that are important to you. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will? So, put your big girl pants on, and go answer some phones! Then, ask someone to cover you so you can go potty and get your water refilled.

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It’s not business; it’s personal.

The adage usually goes, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” As if a decision that alters someone’s life should be taken in stride and have no emotional pull recognized or acknowledged. I think that only a very mature person would be able to do that… take a decision that could potentially alter ones life in stride like the passing of time.

Years ago when I worked in Hotel Management, I worked at an establishment that had an amazing reputation for its customer service. It was a joy to work there when I was able to deliver that good customer service. We found solutions to people’s hotel problems instead of telling them no all the time. I had just come from the “no” environment, and being introduced to a concept of “win/win” was breathtaking.

The owner of our hotel was an auto insurance agency. So, they often booked their agents or other employees in our hotel while they were at the insurance office doing exams, or conferences, or any number of things. Well, one client had spent the week in the hotel. She would give us daily updates on how her studying went. We developed a relationship. And, when it was all over, because the philosophy was “win/win”, I was able to honor that relationship with a complimentary fruit tray and bottle of champagne. She was so thankful. She was so honored at this thing I was able to do because I was empowered by management to make a difference in her life.

The opposite, unfortunately, was true of how management treated its employees. Given that it was the hotel industry, there was a mix of long-timers, employees who’d been there for multiple decades, and short-timers, employees with less than two years in. The hotel had an acronym it encouraged all of its employees to learn and practice towards its guests: L.A.F.F.




Follow up

Now, maybe my recollection of the atmosphere is due to my age. I was a petulant 20-year-old, with lofty ideals of how the world should work. But, what I recall is that management didn’t listen, they did not acknowledge our concerns, they did not fix our concerns, and because none of the above were done there was no follow-up to be had. That, and other experiences of my early career, primed me for my next job — my first non-profit job.

After coming from corporate jobs with varied goals – most revolving in making money – I was tired. I am a belief oriented person, and I did not (do not) believe in making money for the sake of making money. I believe in doing public good, and I needed to focus my skills in an environment that was at least focused on doing good. So, I spent a year with a staffing service, floating from admin job to admin job.

Then, I was introduced to a local non-profit. This group provided insurance for low-income people. They had a mission to serve the under-served! I wasn’t particularly passionate about healthcare, but I could rally behind the cause. And, it was an easy way for me to do what I was good at (assisting people) and answer my need for belief. I was able to ask lots of questions about why it was structured a particular way, why policies were such, and work in an environment where I got paid fairly and worked with dedicated people.

The organization, though, had its own challenges. The laws of Michigan dictated that all Medicaid/Medicare HMOs had to have at least $10 million in a special reserve account. Due to many reasons, long before I hired on, the group lost $8 million. So, the group was put under investigation – like a major audit – by the insurance regulators, and forced to find ways to control its costs. We found that the group who managed our payroll charged too much, so one of the changes we had to make was to find a group that cost less. That is, the Human Resource function wasn’t managed in-house, it was all outsourced and we had picked the highest bidder instead of the lowest.

The board and management finally decided on a nearby organization that did very similar work to ours, but their rate was half that of our current group. The question begs: what will change? The first thing they did was hold an all-employee meeting with give-a-ways. They tried to put us at ease that no one would lose their jobs and it was going to be just a sort of transfer of ownership. Well, deadlines passed, things were delayed, and suddenly we were notified that we had to reapply for our jobs! There was only one of me in my role, and it was necessary for the organization. I felt pretty confident that I would keep my job. Initially, I was given an offer with a better title and pay rate. But, some of my colleagues did not fair as well. And, it became quite clear that we were being fed two different stories.

So, where we were – a mission focused organization that emphasized care to the under-served  but it couldn’t transfer that care to its own employees. So, I worked to rally my co-workers together, and I found something interesting. Rare was an employee who was interested in working for the collective. They only wanted to serve their own needs, fearing no job offer if they did work for a collective. I had nothing to lose. I had plans that were sending me across the country, so I was courageous. I was ballsy, and I sent this letter to the hiring liaison.

Dear Hiring Manager:

Thank you for responding to my email. I am sorry I could not reply sooner, however I did not receive the email until I returned home from work.

While I appreciate your want of receiving an answer [to the extended offer] by the end of today’s business day, it is very difficult for me to make a decision when, again, none of my questions have been properly addressed. In addition, I feel quite leery on making a decision especially when rushed into one.

Before I make any decisions of employment, I want to know that the people I choose to work for will have a good work ethic, respect for humanity, and discretion to guide them. I understand that change happens, nevertheless the concerns I have are over avoidable change; change without caring and compassion. Change that is essentially turning current employees into the ‘under-served’ the mission statement is trying to serve.

That is one of the many reasons I asked the question I did at the information session, and why I have continued to ask questions. I want an interview. Although I do not like the idea of having to interview for a position that I earned fairly, I do like the personal setting in which I would have time to ask other questions and see the body language of a perhaps future employer.

Being a secretary, or administrative assistant, I am comparatively rare. Not everyone has the ability to type over 75 words per minute, nor the comfort level or fluidity with MS Office, and enjoy it. Therefore, I am not a dime a dozen. With that, it is then important for me to work for people who care. People who stay true to mission statements they proclaim, or dogmas they claim to follow and when I do not see this happening I become very doubtful and wonder if I want to subject myself to such an environment.

When I sold books door-to-door, one of the many things I learned was that if I wish to be successful, then I need to surround myself with successful people. I wish to be a good, caring, compassionate person. Therefore, I wish to surround myself with good, caring, compassionate people. As I spend many of my waking hours in my place of employment, it is important that those I work with embody those characteristics.

Unfortunately, current events have yet to prove to me that this new employer embodies those characteristics. If anything, I have seen a reluctance to want to work with us. I have seen talk that “employees are the most important thing” yet I have seen little action.

Not only that, but Mr. [SMITH] gave us confidence that rehabilitation would prove to be beneficial to our lives and employment by citing facts such as the [EXAMPLE HMO ORG] employees who chose to stay are still with them two years later, and his positive attitude about the necessity of the staff to meet member needs. Of course, in retrospect, it is easy to see that the actual number of employees was never stated, nor were the concerns of any possible gap in management properly addressed. I feel that employment is perhaps the largest aspect of my life because as stated before almost half of my waking hours are spent doing it and the paycheck I receive dictates much of what I do outside of it. It seems to me that information has been withheld from us from the very start about not just our jobs, but our very lives. That isn’t just disrespectful, it is moreover hurtful because it says “you don’t matter, your life does not matter.”

Therefore, I remain undecided on the job offer. I am hoping that some questions can be answered with the little time that remains so that I may make a well-rounded, educated decision about my life.


When I found this – I was shocked! I have been consistent over the last ten years. Mid-twenties Michelle is still saying the same thing as mid-thirties Michelle! Mean what you say,  say what you mean, and then be consistent in that delivery. Bring compassion back to the workplace because it is personal. You are talking about food on the table, house payments, loan payments, and kid’s schooling. You are talking about our lives – where we spend 8-10 waking hours every day. I was asking for an equal triple bottom line, before I knew the term. So, don’t give me this “It’s not personal, It’s business” because “business” is nothing but personal.