Archive | Career Advice

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Fish Tank Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Here’s a suggestion for what you ought to do over the upcoming Memorial Day (U.S.)/Bank holiday weekend (U.K.): rent a little movie that came out last year called Fish Tank.

It’s often billed as the U.K.’s answer to Precious. Which is to say that both films treat the subject of poverty, sexuality, dysfunctional families and abuse within an urban setting. But the American film has more of an uplifting, Oprah-esque touch while the British film is raw and bleak. (A bit like the difference between the American and British versions of the television show, The Office.)

I haven’t seen Precious yet, so I can’t speak to the comparison. But I can say that as someone who likes her films sunny side down, Fish Tank really spoke to me and has stayed with me long after I finished watching it.

And I think – like Up In The Air, but for entirely different reasons – it’s also a film about adulthood. Here’s why:

1. It’s about toughness and vulnerability. Once you set eyes on the film’s protagonist – Mia- a scrappy 15-year-old whose life is upended when her mother’s new boyfriend moves in, you won’t take your eyes off of her. Part of this is the fresh, compelling performance by the young actress, Katie Jarvis. But what makes Mia so appealing is that she is in equal measure both tough (she punches a few faces along the way) and vulnerable. (Beneath the toughness we see how painful she finds her social isolation, her verbally abusive mother, and her sexual longing for someone out of her reach.) And that’s what growing up is all about, isn’t it? Learning how to live with disappointment and fear, but also how to protect ourselves from getting hurt.

2. You fall in love with the wrong people. Love Stinks, as the immortal J. Geils Band once told us. And it’s true. At some point in your life – and possible more than once – you inevitably fall in love with the wrong person. They’re too old. They’re too young. They’re married. They’re gay. They’re straight. They live in Timbuktu. It doesn’t matter why. It just can’t work out.  And when Mia looks at her lover who can’t remain her lover for all sorts of reasons, your heart will sink along with hers in recognition of this fundamental truth.

3. Alcohol heals and damages.  When you’re young, it’s liberating to finally sneak that first sip of alcohol. And let’s face it, as you get older, it’s fun to get drunk once in a while. And sometimes – when you’ve been dumped or fired or just had a really bad day – a drink can really help. But when Mia’s 9 or 10 year-old sister starts sipping from a beer can – and you’ve already seen what drinking has done to Mia and especially her mother – you recoil from the image. And you just want to rip the beer can out of her hand. It’s such a fine line, drinking. It’s fun and yet  it can so easily get the best of us. But it takes awhile to figure that out. Ditto sex. But I won’t spoil the movie.

4. Social Class matters. As I wrote in an earlier post about why The Elegance of the Hedgehog is for grown ups – social class is one of those concepts that you can only appreciate once you’re grown up. The idea that where you start often determines where you end up. The idea that if you have no role models they are difficult to invent. The fact that societies don’t often know what to do with the so-called “underclass” – even when it lives right down the road. All of these themes are explored in this film.

5. Having a passion helps. If there’s an uplifting note in this movie, it is Mia’s love of dance. Even though she usually dances alone – in an abandoned council flat (public housing apartment) while drinking beer – dancing brings her joy and may well be her emancipation if she can just figure out what to do with it. It is even one way she manages to connect with her mother. I’ve written before about how important it is to start with what you like and what you’re good at if you want to make a meaningful change in your life. You don’t have to be Baryshnikov. You just need to be passionate about something. Anything. And start there.


Image: Tiny Dancer by Tiziano Caviglia via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Personality Tests: Do We Actually Change as We Grow Older?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to personality tests lately.

First, The New York Times reported that the psychological profession is up in arms because Wikipedia has reproduced a set of common answers to the famous Rorschach inkblot tests. The psychologists claim that the site is jeopardizing one of the oldest, continuously used psychological assessment tests.

I also happened to take a personality test on Facebook last week. It was the “Which punctuation Mark Are You?” quiz. Here’s my answer, with explanation included:

You are a comma.

You like to spread yourself a little thin, trying to be all things to all people. A bit of a control freak, you try to do the work of 10 people. Relax! Let someone else shoulder some of the burden for once!

Which isn’t so bad, in and of itself, except that it duplicated every personality test I’ve ever taken in my life. I took the first one – the famous Myers Briggs test – when I was first out of college. That’s the one where they evaluate you on four dimensions: extroversion vs. introversion, intuition vs. sensing, thinking vs. feeling and judging vs. perceiving. Then you’re assigned a type. I was an “ENTJ” (extroverted/intuitive/thinking/judging), which turned out to be the most extreme of the 16 potential combinations you could wind up with. I raised my hand and asked the consultant what you called it if you had a borderline score on a couple of dimensions – suggesting that perhaps you might easily fall into another “type” – but nonetheless ended up in the 16th box?

“That’s called denial,” she retorted briskly.

Years later, I took another personality test in when I was working in public radio. This time, the categories were a bit different, but the result was basically the same:  I came out as “high dominant” or “High D” for short. The consultant gave everyone a print-out of their results. The idea was to go home and review the list of behaviors associated with your type and use that to improve office harmony with co-workers of different stripes. But the person who seemed to benefit most from the hand-out was not me, but my husband. I came home from work one evening to find him sitting on the sofa – glass of Merlot in hand – poring over the document as if it were an original Shakespeare. He was clearly relishing every word, pausing from time to time to quote back to me from the report about typical “High D” behaviors.

Particularly as we settle into middle-age, it’s natural to want to re-examine who we are and where we’re headed in life. And personality tests are one tool to help us do that. I’m also sure that on some level I should be reassured that my own results are so unerringly consistent across the decades – what statisticians call test reliability.

Still, as someone who has defined herself largely on her ability and willingness to change, I find it a tad depressing to discover – once again – that we actually don’t change all that much over the course of our lives.

How about you? Have you ever taken a personality test and what did you learn about yourself that you didn’t already know?

Image: Rorschach Test by Marie.Carrion via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Figure Out If You're A Manager or a Maker

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve written before about how – on many of the world’s most pressing issues – most people sort neatly into one of two camps: Coke vs. Pepsi. Boxers vs. Briefs. Pet vs. Anti-pet.

In keeping with this concept, the Freakonomics blog linked yesterday to a fascinating post by a guy named Paul Graham about what he calls “managers vs. makers.”

On one side of the divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divided their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have what he calls “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

While the thrust of Graham’s article is to make each type more sensitive to the style/needs of the other sort of worker, figuring out which sort of worker you are before you embark on a career choice could also save you time and headaches down the road. (Trust me. I myself have a maker’s soul trapped in a manager’s body, which probably explains my own schizophrenic career choices along the way.)

To that end, here are five ways to figure out if you’re a maker or a manager:

1. Do you like working in increments of one hour or three hours? If one, you’re a manager. If three, you’re a maker. I have one friend who claims that she can be productive in 20 minutes. She is definitely a manager.

2. Does the prospect of a meeting fill you with anticipation or dread? My husband – the quintessential maker (he’s an academic) – hates going to meetings. Me? Despite being a writer, I love them. They’re social, they bring focus to the day and, most of all, they provide at least the possibility of getting something out the door (which, if you’re a writer/artist/fill-in-the-blank creative type is often elusive.)

3. Do you always have Outlook calendar open on your computer? And do you actually use it? If yes, you’re a manager. You like to schedule things. If no, you’re a maker.

4. Do you ever forget meetings? As Graham notes, one of the problems with meetings if you’re a maker is that you have to remember them. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten a meeting in my life. But I know plenty of makers who get so caught up in whatever they are doing (I name no names) that they completely lose track of time.

5. Are you on twitter? All social networking requires that you spend a certain amount of your day away from whatever it is that you do. But Twitter – because it is so fast and furious – is the uber-managerial 2.0 tool. When used religiously, it forces you to constantly interrupt yourself to tweet an update about your life, mention an article, or react to breaking news.

How about you? Where do you fall on the manager/maker scale?

Oops, sorry. Gotta run. I have a meeting to get to…

Image: MYSTlore News and Events in Outlook 2003 by Soren “chucker” Kuklau via Flickr Under a Creative Commons License

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The Two Faces of Delia: Adopting A Nom de Plume In Adulthood

I have a confession to make:  Delia Lloyd is not my real name.

I felt like I needed to come clean because I joined Facebook yesterday. (Yes, I’m one of those octogenarians driving up the average user’s age.)

And because for me, Facebook is primarily a personal social networking tool (at least for now), I decided to join under my legal name – which is….drum roll please…Delia Boylan. So just in case you cyber-stalked me in the last 24 hours and noticed the same head shot, same bio, same appallingly bad taste in music:  yes, it’s me.

And the whole process of coming to that decision made me think, again, about my name.

I’ve always hated my given name. For starters, it makes me sound like an Irish scullery maid. And then there’s the small problem that no one – in the U.S. at least – can seem to remember it. I’ve grown accustomed to answering to pretty much anything that begins with a D, including “Dee.”

When I was a kid, I disliked my name so much that once – during a high school production of Dames At Sea – I was given the chance to make up my own name for my part (I was in the chorus.) While the other girls eagerly chose things like “Tiffany” and “Sparkle,” I chose – wait for it – Ann. That’s right. Ann. I was dying to have a normal name.

Later on, when I got married and had made my peace with Delia, I still had the (easy) opportunity to change my last name. And while all kinds of different friends weighed in on the politics of whether or not to take my husband’s name, that was an easy one for me. I didn’t like his surname either. So I stuck with Delia Boylan.

But then, round about 2001, I changed careers and decided that as part of the psychological move out of academia and into journalism, I would take on an entirely new persona. And whether because of an inspired moment or because I simply lacked much imagination, I chose my husband’s first name – Lloyd – to use as my last name professionally. (I like to tell people that it’s post-post-feminist…no one knows what to do with that).

My old boss once asked me how it felt to use the name Delia Lloyd, to which I responded: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” She looked a bit puzzled. So I sheepishly added: “I mean, next to having my two kids and marrying my lovely husband and all that.”

But it’s true. Whereas once I felt a little pang every time I had to utter my real name, once I started using “Delia Lloyd” on a regular basis, I found that I loved it. (And as a producer for a daily talk show I spent eight hours a day on the phone, so I quickly got a lot of practice…)

There aren’t all that many things you can change about yourself once you grow up. You’re pretty much stuck with your hair, eye color, stature, what have you.  But adopting a new name – even if it’s a nom de plume – can be really liberating. It’s like changing careers. You get to reinvent yourself and that very fact introduces a little frisson into your life.

I realize that there may be professional drawbacks and confusions with this down the line. Penelope Trunk maintains that you should only blog under your legal name. (She would know. She ended up changing her legal name to match her blogging “handle.”)  But other people – like Colleen Wainwright, a.k.a. the Communicatrix – seem happy to move between the two.

As for me, right now I’m really loving the opportunity to move between the two faces of Eve Delia. Its just one more variant on slash careers!

*****

Speaking of slashes, I’m also loving my new blogging job over at PoliticsDaily.com. Have a look at this week’s posts, one on the G8 Summit and the other on the evolving Murdoch media scandal in the U.K.

Two-Faced Tasha 1 by sethrt via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Slash Careers Within Writing: My New Stint at Politics Daily

As I’ve said several times before on this blog, I’m a big fan of slash careers. Having multiple professional identities is a great way to make a living as a freelancer (particularly during a recession).  It’s also a great way – especially if you’re a writer – to exercise different parts of your brain. In my case, it helps to explain why I’ve been such an avid fundraiser for my children’s school over the past few years.

But another way to keep yourself stimulated as a writer is to slash within your writing. I know a political scientist who also writes children’s songs. One of my favorite writers – Anne Lamott – has written a best-selling parenting memoir, Operating Instructions, a “how to” book on writing, Bird By Bird, as well as several novels. My guess is that there’s something about moving around within all these different genres that keeps her alive as a writer.

In that vein, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve become a contributor to a new political webzine in Washington, D.C. called Politics Daily. I’ll be writing two posts a week for their Woman Up column (where – and I quote – “big girl panties are always a fit,”) as well as occasional features.

My first feature – an interview with an international legal scholar here in the U.K. about the ongoing torture debate in the U.S. – ran on Friday. Check it out here and leave a comment if you dare! (Buyer Beware: I’m coming to learn that the comment section on political websites can be a scary place…be sure to wear your own plus-sized boxers/briefs/panties/thongs/undergarments/what-have-you if you plan on going there…).

For me, this new gig is particularly exciting because it allows me to fuse my background in politics/policy analysis and journalism back into my writing career. In the last few years, I’ve been working as a freelance writer, focusing mainly on personal essays, blogging and fiction. But before that, I worked as a producer for Chicago Public Radio. And before that, I taught political science at the University of Chicago.

So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the sort of research, interviewing and reporting that goes into being a journalist. And it was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar. Above all, however, the experience confirmed for me – once again – that careers really don’t have to be linear anymore. These days, it’s all about the kaleidoscope, baby.

I’ll be sure to highlight pieces I write for Politics Daily when they are relevant to RealDelia.

In the meantime, take a moment to think about your own slash careers – real or potential. What sorts of things have you added or would you like to add to your career portfolio?

Image: Reporter’s Notebook, US Version by Nicla via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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DVD Commentaries: Why I Actually Loved "Love Actually"

I have a confession to make:  I love watching DVD commentaries.

I know. Sometimes they can be excruciating. But when you find a director who really knows how to articulate what he or she is up to, I enjoy these commentaries almost as much as the film itself. (Fortunately, my husband feels the same way.)

I got to thinking about this because last weekend, we rented Richard Curtis’ film Love Actually. If you don’t know who Richard Curtis is, he also wrote Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. (Yes, I realize that – given my usual penchant for films about things like abortion under authoritarian rule in Romania – you might not think that romantic comedies would be up my alley. Turns out I have a soft spot for Hugh Grant. Go figure.)

I liked the film so-so. But I loved the commentary. Why?

Part of it, I think, is that I’m fascinated by the creative process. I love it when people really understand what makes them tick professionally and can convey that process to a wider audience. (In my next life, I plan to return as a career counselor. I figure that, like a cat, I’ve still got six professional lives to go…)

So when Curtis, for example, talks about why he chose a particular piece of music or why he cast Laura Linney in a film otherwise dominated by European actors or why the lighting was particularly challenging in a given scene, I feel like I’m gaining insight into not just the movie, but into the whole world of directing itself.

The other reason I like to watch commentaries is that I love to watch people who love their work. It’s so hard to figure out what you really love to do. So when I happen upon someone like Curtis, who’s clearly found his calling, I find it not just enlightening, but joyful.

It’s the same way I felt last week when I went to see Garrison Keillor perform live in London. Keillor – best known for his quirky public radio show  A Prairie Home Companion – is also a syndicated columnist and singer/songwriter. He is funny, touching, ribald and irreverent. But most importantly – whether he’s reciting a poem or singing a song or telling a story – he’s clearly having a blast. Talk about someone who’s found his niche.

So there you have it. And having now outed myself as a serial DVD commentary viewer – not to mention an abiding Garrison Keillor fan – I feel much better. I’m glad I finally cleared the air.

*****

Check out the blog Daily Routines to find out how artists, writers and other creative folk structure their days. I also enjoy By Henry Sene Yee Design, which examines the creative impulse behind book covers.

Image: DVDs! by THEMACGIRL via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Free Pimms and iPod Chairs: Why I Really Joined the PTA

Last Wednesday I found myself in an upscale, Italian furniture store called Natuzzi (pronounced, in case you’re wondering, Nah-TOOT-see). I’m not exactly the home furnishings type (though I did notice the leather chair where you can plug in your iPod and listen to it in surround sound and made a mental note to never, ever bring my husband here).

I was there because the store had generously sponsored the annual quiz night at my kids’ school and, in exchange, I was arranging for an event to be held at the store next Autumn.

I do this sort of thing quite a lot, actually. In between blog posts and article pitches and agent queries and whatever else I’m up to as a writer, I’m also frequently dashing off emails to the local bakery to see if they’ll donate a cake or nipping into the local off-license (liquor store) to see if they’ll slide us some free Pimms for our upcoming Summer fair. (Never tried Pimms? Get thee to an English pub tout de suite!)

People get involved in the PTA for a lot of different reasons. It’s a great way to make friends, to improve the resources at your kid’s school and to feel on top of what’s going on at the school.

All true.

But while I’m active in the PTA for all of those reasons, the main reason I do it is because it uses a different part of my brain.

As a writer, most of my day is spent (a) alone (b) typing and (c) in my pajamas. So when I go to a meeting or organize a project or cajole someone into donating money to the school, it’s a way to use my now dormant (but bursting at the seams) administrative gene, the one I left on the side of the road the day I left an office job (along with Karaoke night and bagel Fridays). Sigh.

Marci Alboher has a great book called One Person, Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success in which she describes the advent of what she calls “slash careers” – e.g., police officer/personal trainer or violin maker/psychologist.

The thrust of the book – which I’ll talk about some other time – is that slash careers enable people with multiple interests to realize all of their professional dreams. But having a slash career (yes, parenting counts as a slash!) is also a way to utilize different parts of your brain.

For me, then, doing the PTA is about taking my Admin side out of the garage every so often, dusting it off, and going for a whirl – though I’m sure there are many parents at the school who’d love it if I just gave that part of my personality a rest!

And, hey, whenever I get a bit too overzealous in my PTA duties, my friends offer me some Pimms and all is right with the world…

*****

The website Babble offers an arch, funny take on parenting. Read here for a tale of one woman’s reluctance to embrace the PTA, only to discover that she found it quite gratifying.

Image: Pimms No. 1 by Naughty Architect via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Kaleidoscope Careers: Uncovering Your Inner Cezanne

Soon after I started this blog, I got an email from a former colleague who was quite taken with the RealDelia concept. “Think about it,” he said. “You have so much material. I mean how many shows are there featuring ex-pat American PhD freelance essayist ex-radio producer moms?”

He was teasing me, of course (he also said that I should have called the blog “Lloyds of London,” but then advised me to save that for the reality TV show). But he does touch on a serious point. Like many people out there in today’s work force, I’ve done a lot of different things in my professional life which, combined, give me a diverse set of experiences to write about and talk about.

Lisa Belkin had a terrific article about this phenomenon in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year, in which she discussed Caroline Kennedy’s failed bid for the New York senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. However you felt about Kennedy as a candidate, Belkin’s basic point was that Kennedy may have lacked experience for the job in a linear-I’ve-been-preparing-for-this-job-all-my-life sort of way (unlike, say, Kristen Gillebrand, who eventually got the nod). But the sort of “kaleidoscope” resume that Kennedy brought to the table (e.g., lawyer, writer, fundraiser, parent) is increasingly the norm in today’s economy, a by-product both of the dot-com economy which threw traditional career trajectories out the window, as well as the reality of women returning to the workforce after having children.

Belkin’s article also reminded me of some of the arguments raised in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers. In a New Yorker article last Fall entitled “Late Bloomers: Why do we Equate Genius with Precocity?,” Gladwell – drawing on extensive research by David Galenson at the University of Chicago – points out that many of the world’s most celebrated “geniuses” – people like Paul Cezanne, to name but one – didn’t start out as geniuses right off the bat, but rather took years to culivate their talents. So it wasn’t that Cezanne was discovered late (as is sometimes erroneously thought to be the case); it’s that he simply wasn’t very good at what he did until quite late in his career. In the meantime, he was experimenting.

Taken together, I found the messages in these articles to be quite reassuring. Belkin’s article suggests that the economy may be changing in ways that rewards diversity over continuity where careers are concerned. And Gladwell’s article suggests that if you haven’t been labeled a genius by the time you’re twenty five, you’ve still got plenty of time ahead of you. In either case, the message seems to be:  experiment away…

*****

While we’re on the topic of experimentation, I took my kids to see Dan Zane and Friends today in London. Some of you may remember Zanes from his earlier career in the pop band The Del Fuegos. But he has since reinvented himself as a creator of  “homemade family music.” Haven’t seen him perform live? It’s a must…

Image: Kaleidoscope FR 5340 1907 by Lucy Nieto via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Dress for Success: Wear a Burka

My husband got an email from his boss the other morning. It said that the university where he teaches had implemented a new dress code: “No jeans. For men, ties; For women, dress demurely.”

Hmmmm.

Needless to say, the new code inspired a spate of very funny (and some outraged) emails. “Demurely?” wrote in one female colleague who’d just joined the faculty. “Isn’t that a tad 19th century?” Another (male) colleague found the new policy worryingly sexist: “I should be allowed to wear a demure dress too if I want!” The best comment, however, came from a professor who, in the interest of fairness, asked whether the school could address the “appalling” level of student dress as well. “Perhaps they could issue combs at registration?” he queried cynically.

Fortunately, before all the female professors ran out and bought their new burkas, it came to light that this had all been an April Fool’s prank. And a good one at that. It certainly had me going.

But I think  it does touch on a very sensitive issue vis one’s career: how do you dress appropriately for work, particularly in this era of business casual? What’s too casual?

I remember my first job – also at a University – where I looked like I was about 12 years old giving a lecture to 150 25-year olds each week. So every day I would don my “costume” – which was invariably some version of pants suit, heels and silk scarf – the latter tossed in to add 5 years to my youthful visage (or the equivalent in gravitas). Didn’t work very well.

I always thought it was particularly hard for women to figure this whole sartorial thing out, as we tend to both judge and be judged more harshly for what we wear. When I was teaching, for example, someone wrote on one of my course reviews that I needed “a new pair of shoes.”

“Hello? Is that really important?” I thought indignantly. “Aren’t you listening to anything I say?” Apparently not. And, upon reflection, I guess those lectures on bureaucratic reorganization were really boring…

But then I read this post by a VP at Google fretting over which footwear – Uggs or Eccos – was most appropriate for his company (Oh to be a VP at Google!) And I do remember a friend in graduate school who got a course review from one student which read: “Mike needs to lose the black socks and Docksiders.” Ouch.

Penelope Trunk, master of all things work/life related, solved the problem by hiring a stylist to help her shop. Which is one solution, if you can afford it.

I can’t. Which is why I’m happy to have finally landed a career where I wear some version of my pajamas every day and no one but the mailman ever sees me. So if we’re really meant to “dress for the job we want,” I think I’m doing really well: at my last job, I once accidentally wore my slippers to the office.

******

A great website for finding affordable/attractive office wear is The Working Closet.

Image: Woman in Pink Dress Sitting in Chair Holding Roses via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Serve them the $%!* Decaf: Life Lessons from My Summer as a Waitress

I had another Barry Manilow moment the other day – i.e. one of those times when a snippet of music or cultural reference or, in this case, specific location instantly transports you back to some signature moment in your journey towards adulthood.

An article I was reading about an art show in the United States referenced an up-scale art gallery on Eastern Long Island where I once worked as a waitress during high school. And all of a sudden I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I worked at this place for only three or four weeks one summer with my older sister. We worked Thursday-Sunday nights serving desserts to the clientele of the gallery. But while short lived, that job proved to be one of those searing professional experiences that stayed with me for years. Why?

Part of it was the gallery owner himself:  a high strung Manhattan transplant who tried to mask his OCD-like tendencies behind flashy shirts and purple trousers. I think he thought that running a shabby-chic, beach-side gallery would render him a mellower soul. It didn’t. Learning how to manage a mercurial boss proved to be a life-long skill I started cultivating that summer.

It was also the first time that my sister and I – separated by four years in age – became friends instead of just sisters. Having a common enemy in the form of Mr. Purple Pants really united us. I can still remember her emerging from the kitchen with a blob of whipped cream on her face, the remnants of which had been pilfered from a passing profiterole. That didn’t go down very well with our boss, but I erupted in peals of laughter. That sort of fraternal camaraderie between co-workers has been absolutely crucial to every job I’ve held since.

And, then, finally, there was waitressing itself. Someone once told me that everyone should be required to do three things in life:  wait tables, answer telephones, and I can’t remember the third – it might be working construction. There’s something about learning how to navigate the combination of a persnickety boss, demanding customers, and time sensitivity all at the same time – with, in this case, a  prima donna pastry chef thrown in for good measure – that really serves you well in whatever you go on to do next.

Turns out, my sister and I were pretty bad at waitressing. We were always getting the orders mixed up, or naively revealing to the customers that, sadly, we’d run out of regular coffee. (“Serve them the %$!* decaf!” our boss hissed while smiling unctuously at the clients). And I think we both decided that the world would be a better place without us waiting tables in it.

And yet, twenty five years later, just the mention of that gallery brought all of this flooding back to me. Which has to be a good thing, right? If nothing else, I’ve never looked at a cup of decaf quite the same way since.

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