My friend Rebecca and I have an expression for when someone says something at work that immediately makes us react with defensiveness, anger, or frustration. We call it "getting a puffy tail." (Yes, we are cat owners). As in, "When my boss said I’d have to redo the report I just finished, my tail puffed so hard…"
It started with my interview, to which I wore a "nice" black T-shirt, jeans, and sparkly sandals that I borrowed from a friend of mine named Lessie. I was 22 years old and had no idea what I was doing.
"Why do you want to leave your current job?" my interviewer asked. I froze. It wasn’t a strange question, but I was 22, at my first proper interview for a job in the marketing department of a weekly magazine, and I had not prepared adequately.
K., a 67-year-old former marketing executive, worked at a women's fashion company for 30 years before retiring two years ago. When I learned that K. wouldn't watch Mad Men because it too perfectly captured the life of a woman working on Madison Avenue, I immediately wanted to hear more about her work history and background.
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg describes an encounter with a woman she works with: the women describes wanting a mentor that is willing to meet with her once a week for an hour to talk about her career. Sandberg responds: "No, that’s a therapist."
About five years ago, I was considering making a major career shift. I’d been working at a job I liked for several years, but the industry I was in did not excite me the way my volunteer work in animal rescue did. I’ve loved animals since I was a kid; the volunteer work filled me with a sense of purpose, and seeing the immediate outcome of my work (deserving animals going to good homes) made me feel deeply satisfied. It seemed obvious I should try to get paid to do it. I began looking for jobs at shelters and humane societies, but the more I applied and interviewed—even to the point of being offered a job—the less enthusiastic I became about making the change. I’d wanted this forever. Why was I hesitating?
My friend Emily and I first met while preparing to study abroad in Barcelona in 2003. Some of the first things I learned about her were that she loved ice hockey and sailing. After we graduated, Emily took a summer job as the seasonal program director of a yacht club. She took it again the following year, and the year after that.
Reaching out to complete strangers to ask them for help is something we all have to do from time to time.This essential skill is something few people feel comfortable doing. It can feel both futile and presumptuous. How do you get attention and input from a busy person who doesn’t know you?