Odd Jobs #5 – phoney me

When I wrote my first “Odd Jobs”-blog in September 2015 I was just starting to settle in at the job I currently still work at and was still very much in the honey moon phase. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my job and am not planning on leaving any time soon, but things have changed since then, which is logical and good for my development (or so people keep telling me).

full-caterpillar-to-butterfly-transition

Looking back across my CV and the different jobs I’ve done, I see one big trend: the telephone. The odd one out in that sense, is my time at the notorious tax office (aka the most miserable you have ever seen me). And thinking about it now, I think I only said yes to that job because it involved no phonework whatsoever and I had decided I needed to take a big and conscious step away from call centery work if I wanted to move forward.

When I started taking my frustrations from work out on my favorite people, I changed my mind quickly and ran back to the first phone I could find.

My current job involves picking up the phone but is very un-callcenter-like in every other aspect. My previous work experience made this part of my job a walk in the park and very gradually shaped me into the company’s unofficial “phone coach”, as a surprisingly large group of people is either not very good at this or genuinely afraid of the ringing machine… Helping my co-workers find their telephone courage taught me several things:

  • Maybe, perhaps, probably, possibly, could and should are words that express doubt and avoiding them not only makes the person on the other end of the line feel more confident about the message you are communicating, but also has a positive backfire-effect on the person who speaks them.
  • “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer (when it is true) and is more helpful than offering a solution you are unsure about.
  • A sincere “I am sorry to hear that” is sometimes all that is needed.
  • Words are powerful things and should not be underestimated.
  • There are many ways to say “No”.

An interesting transformation I have seen happening in “newbies”, that I recognize now in myself as well, is the following:

  1. The beginning:
    Internal dialogue: So much new information, I will never get the hang of this!
    I feel unsure / hesitant / overwhelmed / Argh!
  2. One month later:
    Internal dialogue: Customers are not calling to make my life miserable and I actually know quite a bit!
    I feel more confident / proud / relieved.
  3. Getting the hang of it:
    Internal / external dialogue: “Yes, yes, no need to finish your sentence, I know what you want. Probably better than you do. Let me get into my flow and tell you everything I know so you can be on your way.” Next!
    I feel over-confident / impatient / repetitive / superior / judgmental.
  4. Slightly frustrated
    Internal dialogue: I’m quite sure I was giving customers the information they needed but now that I’ve been told to try a different approach I feel like an idiot.
    I feel insecure again. I feel like my words sound insincere and unnatural. I feel rebellious.
  5. Telephone zen
    Internal dialogue: First, I’m just going to listen….
    I feel relaxed / open minded / self-confident / ready

What I disliked about callcenter work:

  • most-important-call-center-metricsScripts.
  • Being evaluated using silly standards such as
    • Did you mention the client’s name the right amount of times?
    • Did you ask the client if there were any further questions (even when the client has clearly said he / she had no further questions)?
    • Did you say all the sentences in the right order?
    • Did you manage to keep your average conversation time under 3 minutes?
  • Strict break times.
  • Good hair days turning into bad hair days after constantly getting entangled with headphones.
  • The constant buzz of people talking around you, for 8 hours straight.
  • The unhealthy air / lighting.
  • The clear limit there often is to the amount of critical thinking that is tolerated.
  • Crappy tea (and apparently also bad coffee, but that doesn’t affect me)
  • The fact that I can’t pick up my own phone without automatically mentioning my employer’s name as well.

What makes my current employer different:

  • No real script, apart from the greeting when you pick up. The rest of the “script” consists of general pointers and tips (that by now have mostly been written by me).
  • Break time is very flexible (up to the point that many of us forget to take a proper one).
  • Relatively small budget, so pretty crappy phones & underlying technique.
  • It is encouraged to come up with alternative ways to do things and every idea will be looked into seriously. Disappointment when your plan disappears into the bin after one (or two) looks, is not really allowed though. You must be able to get yourself together quick and move on.
  • No evaluation (or none that I notice).

What I hope to master in time to come (or at some time in my life):

  • Time keeping
  • Making decision with “the bigger picture” in mind
  • Making a plan and sticking to it.

My final conclusion is that call center work is often seen as the bottom of the career food chain, and yes, any slacker could probably do it… but people that are really good at it need to know so much about so many things, starting out with empathy. I think that it every human being would work in customer care for a while and would really make an effort, the world might be just a little more friendly…

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I have a little rebel in me

John Oliver’s recent “last week tonight” episode reminded me of a blog idea that has been in the back of my mind for a long time now. Let’s start with the clip that triggered this:

At the 7:07 mark, a man steps up to defend confederate statues by speaking about his family heritage at a community meeting in North Carolina. He says he always felt proud of his great grandfather’s involvement in the American civil war. His ancestor had stood up for his rights and was willing to fight and die for them. The man says it reminds him that he has “a little rebel” in him. You can tell he feels he is being robbed of this feeling now that the confederate statues are being shown in a different light.

As much as this makes me giggle, roll my eyes and shake my head, I do get it. Profoundly more so than I may care to admit, at first glance.

My own heritage is filled with adventurous globetrotters, standing for what they believed was right in the context of their time.

inleiding_01

My great grandfather, for example, was a preacher from the rural North of the Netherlands who travelled to the Dutch colonies (in current day Indonesia) at the beginning of the twentieth century for what I imagine would’ve been missionary work. I know very little about him or what he did there exactly, but as a colonizing power, you can imagine we Dutchies do not have clean hands in every aspect.

I hope to be able to find out more about him and what he did, some day. I am proud to be a descendant of a man willing to venture into the unknown. I can only hope he did more good than bad for the people of Magelang.

The preacher had a son, my grandfather, who was born in Palembang, Indonesia in 1915. All though I’m not sure about when exactly they returned to the Netherlands, I do know my grandfather was attending University  in the Dutch city of Delft, when  the Second World War was at its peak.

I can imagine his international upbringing made him more conscious of global issues and the miles he must have made at sea as a child traveling from Indonesia to the Netherlands, would have tempered his fear of open water. So, when faced with a possible Nazi labor deployment, he decided to flee the country by boat with two companions and his Belarussian wife, who refused to leave his side. Across the North Sea, in England, they joined our queen and the allied forces to fight fascism across the globe.

Foto+van+de+Dag++vaarkrant+2As I wrote a few years ago after my own tribute to their voyage, the so called “Engelandvaarders“, or England sailers, are an important part of Dutch WWII history and even have their own museum in the seaside town of Noordwijk to commemorate them. So yes, I am proud to be able to call myself a descendant of theirs.

At the same time, I know my grandparents chose to join the KNIL, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, a military division that is not without controversy. As with my great grandfather’s deeds and position, I do not know the details of my grandparents’ role here (yet). What I do know is that following World War II, “the KNIL was used in two large military campaigns in 1947 and 1948 to re-establish Dutch control of Indonesia. The KNIL and its Ambonese auxiliaries have been accused of committing war crimes during this “police action”.”

So yes, still proud… but very conscious of the fact that the reality they were facing and that facts they were presented with at the time, must have made them feel the cause they were fighting for was a just one. If this is still the case today, now that we can zoom out and look at the end results, remains to be seen.

Next in line is my father, who was born in Indonesia in 1947 himself and has travelled the world during much of his life, doing development work in South America and the Middle East. How many people’s lives has he actually improved? How many people learnt how to fish themselves thanks to the projects he led and how many “merely” received a charity fish? How much money was wasted on corruption and how much was actually spent effectively? How many projects brought people what they really needed on the long term and how many were merely set up as short term tools in the Dutch political agenda?

So… I guess my point is, I am proud to say that I come from a lineage of adventurers and people wanting to make a difference in the world. If their cause or methods were always good, is up to debate. A debate I am willing to engage in.

Giovanni & Pisbee

When I was about two or three I had an imaginary friend, or actually there were two of them: Giovanni and Pisbee.

People weren’t allowed to sit on the chairs where Giovanni and Pisbee were sitting and my parents would have to hold the door open for them after I had already entered. At dinnertime Giovanni and Pisbee needed to be fed, just like I did and of course they were bathed and tucked in with me at night.

I can retrace Giovanni’s origins, as that is the name of the juggler from one of my favorite childhood books: The clown of God. Pisbee however I can not account for. I can not explain to you the etymology  of his name nor would I be able to give you any description of what he may have looked like, which makes me sad in a way. He was a friend to me and I wasn’t able to hold on to any part of him in my mind’s eye…

illustration by Alex Maw
illustration by Alex Maw

If I look the name up on Google, the only significant result comes from some sort of satirical play referencing Pyramus and Thisbe by naming the main characters Thyramus and Pisbee. So was Pisbee my childhood forbidden love? Did he die tragically due to a tragic misunderstanding, like in the above named saga? Was Pisbee even male?

I do imagine him as a male figure and for some reason I see him as foreign, slightly exotic looking. Some sort of gipsy, maybe? A protector, like Giovanni was too. Did he know any circus-worthy tricks, like my juggling buddy? Were they a travelling duo, like Don Quijote and Pancho Villa? In a way that does sort of fit, as most people only know Don Quijote by name and always forget about his loyal (and more sane) sidekick.

Why did my two buddies stop being a part of my life, turning invisible even to their creator? How did I lose the ability to see them? Did I lose interest? Or were they no longer necessary? Did the world of five senses finally convince me it was odd, inadvertently convincing me to let them go? Did I lose them during our move abroad, which happened around that time as well? Or did I start to bore them and did they just move on to another kid? That would actually make me feel much better…

I can daydream about these types of things for hours! Maybe tonight, when I go to sleep, my two old friends will return to me. All I have to do is remember!

Bathing in the purple rain

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Number One.”

What was the #1 song when you were born? Write about how the song relates (or not!) to your personality.

On the day I was born, Prince was leading the charts here in Holland with his heart wrenching song: Purple Rain.

I am not completely certain what this song is about and as far as I can tell, neither is the internet.

Purple rain, whatever it is, is supposedly a good thing. He sings about wanting to laugh, bathe and be in this blue-red precipitation. If purple rain is happiness, I think it must be the kind of happiness a manic person must feel during their peeks. Glee with a touch of insanity.

I think this song always makes me feel a bit uneasy. But it’s the kind of uneasiness you sometimes feel like feeling, you know what I mean? That edgy, dark feeling that may seem somber to some, but isn’t really.

So, do I relate to this song? I really don’t know… I do have the following image as my desktop image, and I do identify with the crazy kid soaking up the rain there, laughing at the grumpy man pass by. Coincidence?

enjoying the rain

For the rest, this song plays no particular role in my life, even though I appreciate it in my own way. My parents do have a soft spot for good ol’ Prince, but not like they do for say, Bob Dylan.

If there is any parallel between this song and me then it may be the crazy romance between my parents. They have the type of relationship that only they can understand. They make each other miserable like you wouldn’t believe, but have a passion for life and each other that some might envy (not me though 😉 ).

It’s definitely never boring…

The R is back

August, where did you go?? I wrote you a promise and I must confess I did not fully deliver.

I promised you 31 blogs, 31 pieces of fruit, 5 jogs and one bucketlist item. I pretty much failed at ticking every single box. The final score is:

  • 26 blogs
  • no clue, didn’t keep track of the fruit but I’d say I did eat more than usual but definitely not every day.
  • I did go to the gym every week but did not go out for a run every week. I think it was three times this month and once went to work by bike.
  • I added three items to my bucketlist, CHECK!

Now, fun as it was, I will definitely not keep on trying to squeeze my brain like an orange for inspiration and forcing myself to look at my computer screen on days that I would much rather go to bed early. I did however very much enjoy pushing myself a bit and reading back the results at the end of the week. I saw the view count on my blog go up a bit and did definitely notice that the more you write, the easier it becomes.

Some of the things I posted were definitely easy cop-outs and may not stay online forever, but they still served their purpose.

Now that September has crept up on me with the first autumn rains, I have decided to make some new goals. Definitely not as ambitious as posting a blog a day, but inspiring stuff nonetheless. Between now and August 2016 I will

  • donate my hair to charity
  • learn bee-keeping
  • volunteer at refugee foundation
  • go back to donating blood regularly after my 6 month hiatus due to trip oversees.
  • blog about all the above and more
  • get back into photography and post the results
  • strike some (let’s say at least three?) of the items off my bucketlist

So, I am ready take on this final quarter of 2015 and get some things done. Onwards we go!

Heal the world

Imagine walking through the desert. It’s hot. You’re thirsty. You see something glistening in the sand… Is it water? A mirror? Is it your imagination playing tricks on you? No, it is actually your lucky day and you’ve just stumbled upon of those super rare genie bearing lamps! What were you doing out here in the desert anyhow and why are these things always found in the middle of nowhere? Nevermind… Quick quick, rub it and see how many wishes you’ve been granted….

POOF! A genie! But not just any genie… This one went to University! That’s Dr. Genie for you! And you get ONE wish. A very specific one too, it’s all in the small lettering at the bottom of the page, I assure you… The bill will be sent to you in a couple of weeks. Now please sign here…

The instructions: You may name any disease or ailment, physical or psychological and the world will be rid of it.

Such a precious wish. But it’s just the one, so you must choose wisely!

There are so many diseases cutting valuable lives short. So many wonderful people being taken from their loved ones. Sure, some of them are probably ass holes but they still didn’t deserve to die like that, right? According to this list the top ten deadliest diseases are:

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Still, I would not name any of these diseases to be annihilated because I am one of those horrible beings that believes people need to die at some point. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy losing people, I cry at funerals and hope those I love live as long and prosperly as possible. My dad has (had) at least three of the ailments from that top ten list and I’m glad they didn’t kill him (yet).

Making these diseases disappear will decrease mortality rates and only increase the world’s population. Sure, It will prevent some individual’s personal losses and hypothetical traumas. They will not thank me though. They will not value the no-longer-dying person more, nor will they make the most of the time they have just won. They probably never even knew their time was running short. And even if they did, you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone anyway. They might never value life like they would have if they’d had lost their mother, brother, father or child to that mortal disease.

Now that all of you think I am a horrible person I could go on and say that I wish to rid the world of hatred, or I could go full blown hypocrite and say that I will eradicate cynicism but I’m not here to troll.

The ailment that I wish to wipe out is depression. I’m sure some will say this doesn’t qualify as a disease, but I disagree. Seeing people I love suffer from depression is the worst thing. I have never been depressed myself and am quite certain I never will be touched by this dark demon but I do see its shadows in my environment every now and then. It’s horrible horrible horrible.

It’s a disease that doesn’t kill you, but makes being alive feel pointless. All the beauty of the world is lost to those suffering from it. No “I love you” ever enters their heart, no matter how often you say it. They still feel worthless and alone, no matter how tight you hug them. I hate that bloody disease and would ask the genie if I could give that wretched black mut of a dog one last kick in the balls before he blasts it off the planet.

Programming my sexual preference

Last Friday, while I was at the gym with one of my best friends we saw Louis Theroux pass by on one of the screens hanging around. It was the episode about pedophiles. We both agreed that all though these men were a danger to society, it must be horrible to be them.

Some of them come across as very regular (sane) men with deviant tendencies that makes it impossible for them to live among us. They are often ashamed of this themselves. Some (most?) have never acted on the fantasies they have and accept they are a danger to society. They hate themselves for feeling what they feel, very much like the Belgian prisoner I wrote about a while back on my other blog.

We philosofied about how these sexual preferences come to be. I said I couldn’t imagine that being sexually attracted to children was a feeling someone was born with, but must be caused by some trauma in their childhood, some sort of messed up imprint on their souls. My friend, -let’s call her Z,- disagreed and said she thought it was innate, just as homosexuality is.image

She asked me if I thought homosexuality could be cured through therapy and I was quick to shake my head. No, we agreed, homosexuality is not a disease. Then, playing the devil’s advocates, we wondered if having a history of abuse or molestation is more common among homosexuals and if so, if sexual predators are more attracted to these children because they were different from the start or if they changed because of this experience.

There have been many studies on the relation between homosexuality and child abuse and there does seem to be a correlation there. Politically incorrect as it may be, I then asked to what extent homosexuality could indeed be seen as nature or if there may be cases in which nurture played a role instead. I said I thought it was possible, Z disagreed.

She asked: Do you think therapy could turn me into a lesbian?

She reminded me she had had bad experiences with men in the past and no one would blame her for saying “no more dudes for me”. I think people can be persuaded into many things and most of all love. I told her I thought it was possible, only that this would not be called therapy, but brainwashing…

She asked: What’s the difference?

imageHoly crap… What IS the difference? All therapy is based on a theory and always aimed at influencing the mind. We like to think there is a place called “sanity” and therapy brings you back to this place if for some reason or other you have lost touched with it. But try defining sanity! Is sanity the same as normalcy? If so, I know there are people who’s definition of sanity I absolutely do not accept.

Normal is defined by what is “the norm”. Normal is what the majority thinks, feels and does. Normal is average.

Sane behavior is what we as a society find acceptable or desirable. Sane behavior is controlled behavior. If you decide to jump in the water fountain and take your clothes off, this is considered to be unwanted behavior. It does not mean you are insane though.

imageIt may just mean you are rebellious and want to go against the main stream and the society you are expected to be a part of.

I’m sure some of you might think I’m delusional myself after reading the above. Others may just see it as untactical or ignorant. Maybe my ideas are just incomplete or maybe I’ve been totally misinformed. I blame it on my brainwashing cycle.

How have you been programmed to think?