I’m co-working with my best friend on a sunny Tuesday, drinking coffee on her couch, and sifting through my inbox.
She walks behind me on her way to the kitchen and glances at my screen. “You know you can just click on that little arrow to read the next email, right?” she says as she rinses out her mug. “You don’t have to keep going back to your inbox.”
What now? My email-reading life = changed. Productivity = upped. With an afterthought of a comment, my friend significantly improved my work life.
And I’m sure she nearly didn’t tell me because she thought her suggestion was too obvious.
We’re all guilty of this, right? Discounting our knowledge because it has become so ingrained in our everyday life that we assume everybody else knows that thing or has that skill set.
“I just thought if I followed through rules, things would work out, ya know?”
It’s 2005 and I’m walking down an alley in Nei Li, Taiwan, drinking coffee out of a plastic bag and commiserating with my co-worker. I’ve been working as an ESL teacher for a year and, while I love it, it’s not exactly the future I pictured for myself.
“I thought if I got good grades, got into the right school, paid all that tuition, and did all those internships … well, I didn’t think I’d be living with two roommates and working two jobs.”
This is the bill of goods we’ve been sold by modern life, isn’t it?
Incur $XX,XXX of school debt acquiring a professional skill set. Spend $X,XXX on a vacation somewhere warm. Join Tinder to meet your honey. Move to Hollywood to become a performer. Get a literary agent to publish your writing.
This is how we’re supposed to do it, right? These are the rules we follow to get what we want, correct? These are the foregone conclusion, one-straight-line solutions to The Good Stuff.
I’m sitting in the sunny corner of a coffee shop in Minneapolis, tucking into a late afternoon latte when my friend slides into the seat across from me. She slaps the table with both hands, leans forward and whisper shouts “You will NOT believe what just happened.”
“Tell me everything!” I whisper shout back.
My friend has been going through rough patch in her business. Like a “I don’t know if I can make my half of the mortgage, should I sell these boots on Ebay” sort of rough patch.
She’d been invited to pitch a project to a new client in Los Angeles. She sluethed a bit and discovered that the woman she was pitching was A Big Deal. Yale MBA, started her own company in her twenties, the whole thing.*
Feeling both intimidated and broke, my friend readied herself for the pitch call. After a few minutes of chitchat, my friend explained how she planned to run this project and shared her quote: $7,000.
There was silence on the other end of the line.
And then a sigh.
Firmly but kindly, the Fancy L.A. Lady said, “I’m so tired of women undercharging for their work. We had $40,000 set aside for this project so I want you to rewrite your proposal for that amount and send it through again. I’ll present it to the board along with the recommendation that we hire you.And I want you to promise that you’ll raise your rates.”
ARE YOU WEEPING YET BECAUSE I AM!!!!
When I shared this story, the nearly unanimous response I heard was “Someday I want to be able to do that for someone.”
Have you ever played that super fun game called “Well I Already Screwed Up So I Might As Well Really Lean Into This Mess”? I bet you have. I spent most of my twenties and my early thirties playing this game several times a month! Here are the rules:
Set some unrealistic expectations for yourself
Do something slightly out of bounds
Throw your hands up in despair, decide this day is a waste, and you’ll start over tomorrow
Double down and spend the rest of the day doing dumb, self-defeating things
Ate three donuts for breakfast? Welp, I guess I might as well eat this whole pizza and wash it down with a tube of cookie dough! Missed that deadline? Today is officially dedicated to blowing things off, watching my entire Netflix queue, and ignoring my inbox.
Since I started the day by gossiping about my coworker’s divorce, I’ll throw myself headlong into some celebrity gossip and then I’ll call my best friend and complain about my partner for 45 minutes! How do you get back on track? How do you turn a bad day around? My answer is going to sound suspiciously easy and succinct. I’m telling you anyway. No matter what happened during the day, you can spend 10 minutes at night setting it right.
“Well, I’m certainly happy to take this to the tenant advocacy group if need be,” I say tartly. I tap my finger meaningfully on a highlighted section of my lease and raise my eyebrows.
It’s 2011 and I’m tangling with my landlord. He’s trying to make me cover the cost of repairing a phone jack that didn’t work when I moved in (?!?). I’ve pulled the appropriate paperwork, researched my options, and generally made him rue the day he messed with the blonde in 7A.
If you need someone take concerns to HR, call the president of the condo board, or convince your boss you deserve a raise, I am that someone.
(I mean, just as an aside, I don’t think they let friends negotiate raises but you see where I’m going with this.)
Since I’m the captain of team “I’d like to speak to the manager,” you’d think that would translate to other parts of my life, right?
For a long time, it didn’t.
For years, I would happily confront anyone, anywhere if I was backed by a “policy.” If I could print something out and point to a specific sentence, I was fearless. Backed by structure and bureaucracy, I felt confident taking on my boss, my landlord, my insurance company, my cell phone provider.
And I could summon the same tenacity when I advocated or negotiated for other people. You will regret the day you tried to overcharge my friend, because I am going to have words about it!!!
But when it came to advocating for myself in tenuous situations – situations where I was only backed by feelings, not paperwork – I’d wilt into a milquetoast wallflower. I’d make a mumbled, half-hearted request and then fade back into the carpet.
It’s a sunny, blue-skied winter day and I’m sitting on the couch, cuddled up with my journal, my cat, and a cup of peppermint tea. I stare into the middle distance, nod at no one in particular, and then write something wise and insightful in my notebook.
That’s what I wish planning for the upcoming year looked like. I wish it was sweet, intentional, and cozy!
Often it looks more like one enormous Google doc filled with 17,243 bullet points. It’s arranged in no particular order. “Finally figure out that software I bought three months ago” is nested directly below “More quinoa” and “Nut cheeses???”
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