Tag Archives: Job

The Bad Rules 

Bad rules irritate me.

Bad rules irritate me.

I handed the barista a $20 bill because I wanted to break it and leave her a tip.

“Thank you so much,” she said, “but we can’t accept tips.”

The Starbucks was co-located inside an elaborate new grocery store in my neighborhood. I gestured to my surroundings.

“Because you’re in here?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Feel free to not answer this question, but are you financially compensated for your inability to accept tips?” I said.

Without turning around, a second Starbucks barista behind her said: “No. No, we’re not.”

“So let me get this straight: The new Starbucks across the street has a bunch of workers in it and they all split the tips. You guys also work at Starbucks maybe 200 yards away and are paid the same wages, but can’t receive tips?”

“Exactly,” she said.

“Hmm. Sounds like bullshit to me. Thanks so much for the coffee.”

For all of capitalism’s faults, there is something beautiful about the freedom to pursue whatever work you want and for employers to be able to hire anyone they choose and pay them (so long as it’s at least the federally mandated minimum wage) whatever the employee is willing to work for.

Meaning, much of the responsibility lies with the employees who chose to work at a Starbucks where tipping isn’t allowed. They have the freedom to try to get a job at a Starbucks that does allow tipping. And they can get a job in an entirely different line of work if they so choose.

However.

I HATE BAD RULES.

Decision makers sit in board rooms and fancy offices and make decisions. These are presumably the smartest people in a particular company, so I’m always floored by the decisions that seem so poorly conceived.

I’m speaking out of school here about this particular Starbucks co-located inside this particular grocery store. I’m not privy to the legal terms of the two companies’ relationship, nor whether the Starbucks is owned by a franchisee and how that might factor in.

That said, I have a fundamental problem with a Starbucks employee doing the exact same job as another Starbucks employee literally across the street but making less money for it by virtue of a rule preventing that employee from receiving tips in a line of work where tipping is a common and expected practice and income supplement.

I know a guy who goes to school and works part-time at a Starbucks. I have no idea how many hours he works, but it’s not uncommon to earn an extra $50 per week from tips.

Quick and dirty math: If an employee is making $10 per hour and working 20 hours per week part time, they’re earning $200 per week, and $10,400 per year.

An employee earning an additional $50 per week in tips would earn $2,600 more per year than an employee not getting tips.

Thus, the tipped employee doing the same job as the non-tipped employee is earning about 25 percent more. Doing the same job! In the same town! Across the street!

And I don’t get it. And I don’t like it. Because it’s a bad rule.

And bad rules are bullshit.

Anyone With a Job Gets It

And if you don’t, you’re fortunate. Because many companies have bad rules.

For example, I have a job where in addition to my paid time off, I also have a week of unpaid time that I’m allowed to use. BUT. I’m only allowed to use it AFTER I’ve exhausted my paid time off. You know, at the end of the year when you’re spending the most money on gifts and travel and presumably have the least amount of budgetary wiggle room.

What would be the harm in letting employees use their unpaid time whenever they want?

It’s a “Because I said so” rule, and I’m particularly not fond of those sorts of edicts.

How about this one?: Single parent’s child gets sick and is forced to use vacation time to care for the child (and probably also get sick and use EVEN MORE time.)

You know what I do for a living? I write stuff. On the internet. And communicate via email with my co-workers, many of whom are close enough to speak to without moving from my office chair.

Millions of people have jobs exactly like mine.

Tools for the job? Functioning computer. Internet access. Maybe a phone.

If an employee can get her job done despite having a sick child at home (and won’t the proof be in the pudding based on production?), why are we punishing said employee simply because she can’t make it into the office?

Is she competent enough to stay in touch via phone and email and send in her electronic work electronically? I know I am. And I know that my superiors know how much work I typically get done in a day or week, and it would be simple enough to gauge how much work got done when I wasn’t physically present in the office.

I have every confidence that millions and millions of employees globally can do the same thing. Maybe the weather’s severe and driving conditions are dangerous and the kids have a snow day at school. Maybe a million different things that shouldn’t matter so long as the work is getting done at the expected quality.

But in many instances, they are punished for things completely outside their control.

One sick child equals one less vacation day. And for what? So they couldn’t be physically babysat by an adult?

It’s a bad rule.

And it’s bullshit.

We don’t have to tolerate bad rules and policies.

Slavery.

Women’s suffrage.

Prohibition.

Those are huge things that should not be compared to silly corporate policies, but are great examples of people rising up in opposition to things that don’t make sense.

There is A LOT of gray area in this world. So much that half of all voters in the United States believe something almost completely opposite of the other half about virtually every political topic. They’ll scream at each other and hurl insults in private conversation and on cable news talk shows.

It’s very frustrating sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The open exchange of new and different ideas is how the world becomes better. And how we grow.

But sometimes there really isn’t any gray area.

Sometimes, things are just bullshit and make little sense.

We should do something about those things.

You.

Me.

When?

Now?

Yes.

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The World Needs Clock Punchers

time clock

I bet I’ll panic when I’m dying.

I get nervous about things. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be nervous about dying.

Scared probably, unless I’m in so much pain I welcome the relief.

What will I think about?

I can only guess. But I’ve always been a good guesser. I will think about my son, hopefully an older man himself at that point. Maybe I’ll have grandchildren. Maybe there will be a woman I love. I don’t know.

But I do know one thing.

Much of what I feel will be predicated on my satisfaction with my life choices.

On whether I lived in fear, grinding out my prime years behind cubicle walls in a corporate office.

On whether I lived courageously. And took my shots.

A guy I work with thinks I’m too ambitious. He thinks maybe I’m not grateful for my job and the money I make even though I am.

Today, I was editing a contributing writer’s column for our company blog. The writer is a long-time, well-respected, talented auto mechanic and hot rod builder.

While describing how to fix something, he wrote about a tool needed to complete the job. According to this long-time industry expert, no tool of this kind exists for automotive applications. Only in woodworking, and they are all insufficient for precision metal cutting.

I turned to my co-worker and said: “People need this tool. Why is it no one’s making it?”

It sparked a conversation about filling needs in the marketplace. About how you capitalize on opportunity.

But it quickly turned.

“Do you really want to work 60-hour weeks?” he said. “Because that’s what it takes to start a business.”

“Well. I think there’s an argument for putting in long hours early, so that you can work less and earn more as you age,” I said.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I just want to work my 40 hours and go home. The world needs clock punchers.”

Everyone Has a Role

He’s right, of course.

The world does need worker bees. The productive people needed to execute the various tasks that make businesses function effectively, providing their goods or services to customers.

Not everyone will be a boss.

Not everyone will earn top salaries.

Not everyone will accumulate financial wealth.

I have a friend preparing for law school. She’s taking the LSAT soon and has been highly stressed about it and other life happenings. Go-to-the-hospital stressed.

“This is important,” she said of the test, trying to justify the stress.

“No it’s not,” I said. “In 500 years we will all be dead and it won’t have mattered at all.”

She understood me.

“When you think about that… that so few things actually matter… what does it make you want to do?” she said.

We’re all going to die and none of this petty stuff matters at all.

We FREAK about all this stuff. Money. Spats with our spouses or parents or children or siblings or friends. About things going on at work. About some task that “needs” taken care of because we’re always busy, busy, busy! So much to do!

It doesn’t matter.

It’s amazing we’ve all convinced ourselves it does.

I thought about her question. What does it make me want to do?

You’ll probably think it’s cliché. But I said: “Love.”

Not romantic love. The kind where you shine light in the darkness.

I said: “Forgive.”

There is no peace without forgiveness. There can be no happiness without peace.

I said: “Laugh.”

Even though I can’t find any scientific proof to back it up, I hear over and over again the claim that children laugh about 300 times a day and that adults laugh less than 20.

Even if it’s not true, it IS true that life gets harder and grayer and crueler and heavier as you age. You grow up and make mistakes and the stains from guilt and past mistakes and sinif you believe in such a thingdarken our insides.

We feel just a little less innocent.

Just a little less hope.

Just a little less joy.

But if we could laugh 300 times a day, I think it would help.

I said: “Seek adventure” as my fourth answer to the question: What does the realization that most of the things we do not mattering make me want to do with this time I get to be alive?

For me?

Adventure is being spontaneous.

Adventure is travel.

Adventure is meeting strangers.

All four answers have one thing in common: The desire for FREEDOM.

The optimum human experience, near as I can tell, would be one where we woke up each day feeling safe, with the resources (financial or otherwise) needed to care for ourselves and our loved ones, and the freedom to spend our waking hours pursuing our passions however we wanted.

Hopefully, those passions would often serve something greater than ourselves, lest we find ourselves always drunk or high or having sex.

I keep trying to find a workaround. But I haven’t solved the riddle.

Near as I can tell, we have two choices to achieve a state of abundance.

Acquire wealth—to whatever degree you define it. (Some people crave $75,000 per year. Others crave $1 million per.)

Or, live a minimalist lifestyle. Reducing “need” eliminates the pressures and necessity of acquiring more money to pay for more things.

I prefer a combination. Spiritually, I do not want to need “things” because things have never made me feel happy or content for very long. Not even once.

But I also crave money because there are things I want to do (including charity) that I am unable to do at my current income level.

So, my plan is to acquire more money sans the desire for more “stuff.”

See You in 10 Years

I was irritated with my co-worker because I think he lacks vision and passion.

My co-worker was irritated with me because he thinks I’m an ingrate.

“Some people aren’t cut out for more than office work,” he said. “In 10 years, I’ll probably be gone, and you’ll probably be sitting right here. See you in 10 years!” he said.

There’s nothing wrong with punching a clock. Our jobs do not define us. Our jobs that won’t matter one bit in 500 years when we’re all dead.

But freedom?

Freedom matters. Because we don’t have a lot of time. And because we’re all going to die.

And we’re all going to have to ask ourselves: Did I give it everything I had?

Keep telling me what I can’t do, friend.

The world needs clock punchers.

But I’m not going to be one of them.

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We Only Need 5% To Say Yes

power-of-5percent

I work in a cubicle and I’m 35 and my life is always going to feel a little crappy and disappointing unless I do something about it.

Going to bed every night and doing the same thing each day is NOT a viable strategy for improving your life. We wait for things to change. But they rarely do.

Before you know it, it’s too late and you’re old and you can’t afford to live until you’re 85 anyway, so maybe it would be better to just die because at least that would be affordable.

Or.

Just maybe there’s an opportunity to play a leading role in making our lives what we want them to be.

Being 35 sometimes scares me because I feel like I’ve lost so much time, but it’s also not without its perks.

Remember Bill Murray’s Phil Connors character in Groundhog Day?

“Maybe the real God uses tricks, you know? Maybe he’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long, he knows everything.”

There’s an important truth there about life experience that you can’t fully appreciate until you feel it.

I don’t know when it happened. And it had nothing to do with my chronological age.

But at some point, I recently concluded: I’m not a kid anymore. I’m good at a few things. I’m capable, and I need to do something.

When I lost my job on Jan. 1, 2010, I knew my newspaper career was over.

The recession had slaughtered newsrooms everywhere. When no one’s making money, no one’s advertising. When no one’s advertising, news organizations are making less money.

That, combined with the breakneck speed with which the internet has grown as everyone’s primary news source, sealed print journalism’s fate.

The news business will never be what it used to be.

I needed to reinvent myself.

And I’ve never done particularly well with change.

Because of people I knew through my wife, I got some seed projects to get started as a freelance writer. And just like that, I became a guy who wrote marketing copy for websites and stuff.

I’m not shitty.

But there are limitations to what you can do when your primary discipline is writing. I was never going to be able to provide the comprehensive services people need from their internet marketing agencies, consultants, or in-house departments.

And frankly? I’m just not responsible and disciplined enough to handle all of the administrative aspects of business operation on my own. It’s because I’m a large child.

My business was never going to blossom into something more on the merits of my writing projects.

Damn. I need to get a job, I realized.

And I did.

I was offered a pretty good job writing website copy and blog content for two top-1% (by global traffic) sites. I also write email copy. The kind you get from Kohl’s or Groupon or Walmart or Victoria’s Secret.

We send lots and lots of email to customers.

We get an enormous amount of traffic from Google and other search engines and social media networks.

And you know how many of those people buy something? Single-digit percentages.

Sometimes less than 1%. Sometimes closer to 10%.

Let’s split the difference and call it 5%.

That means that for every 100 people that interacts with something I write—a blog post or retail email or an individual part page on a website where something is for sale, only a super-small fraction (maybe 5, at most!) ever buy anything.

We call it the “conversion rate.”

And guess what? In my line of work, a 5% conversion rate is fairly awesome.

Is There a Point?

A couple friends and I are talking about taking the skills we’ve developed in marketing and trying to build something from it.

A business of our own.

There are a virtually infinite amount of small businesses out there who do a subpar job marketing themselves on the web. We can make them more money. We know it. And better yet? We can prove it. Because almost everything is measurable on the web.

It will be a side project at first.

And God-willing, it will grow into something meaningful. Only time will tell.

But here’s the mindset I want to have, and I think it applies to most facets of my life.

In business, as in life, we’re going to hear “No” a lot. It’s probably going to feel too often.

Rejection hurts. And we get discouraged.

Based on the math I see, 95% of everyone who sees my stuff doesn’t do what I want them to.

That’s 95% rejection!!!

And without context that might feel like a lot.

But I do have context. You can change the world with a 5% response rate.

If 5% are going to do what we want to, then we only need to increase the amount of people we’re communicating with to grow. If 5% out of every hundred businesses we pitch say yes, we have five new clients.

Work twice as hard, we’ll have 10. And so on.

The conclusion? Success is a virtual certainty IF only you’re brave enough to ask enough people to let you help them, and then deliver good work.

We can hear “No” and feel the pains and discouragement of rejection 95 out of 100 times, and still win.

It may end up nothing. Or it may change everything.

No matter what, it’s another opportunity to choose ourselves and control our own destinies.

And there aren’t many things in life better than that.

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