Monday, August 19, 2013

The Importance of learning to say, "no"

I am capable of speaking four languages to varying degrees of proficiency -- from barely able to get by to better than I like to think. In each one, the words for "yes" and "no" are well ingrained in my head. Whether I am capable or not of actually uttering the word for "no" is another matter entirely.

Job B, formerly known as <rearrange words> until I realized something years later...
Take the past few weeks for example. Believe it or not, I have some marketable skills. Graduating in a recession didn't make finding a job the easiest task. With the unsolicited aid of a parent, an opportunity arose for me to work as an "apprentice" to a self-employed engineer with a start-up. That job started with some sort of weird initiation where I helped him haul bricks at $10 an hour.

Not surprisingly, my willingness to do such a shit job and not complain led to the actual "apprenticeship" at below market wages. As luck would have it, my proper full-time job was offered and accepted at almost the exact same time -- a contract side-job and a full-time job, what could go wrong? That's two jobs with different assignments and would look good on my resume, right?

Four years on: FML
Four years later and I hate both jobs and probably the entire field. The work is not interesting and I get really annoyed at the anal repetitive tasks I'm stuck with. Even the more complicated and "interesting" jobs in the field don't appeal to me in the slightest now. This ongoing experience is definitely my fault. I should have moved on by now and haven't spent much time looking elsewhere. This means any immediate action would result in unemployment. But I like eating...

The desire to eat and sleep indoors means that I need an income and "must" bend over backwards for my main, full-time employer until I properly move on. What about the casual, part-time contract job?

Being paid below market wage and having to fit a second casual job around a 40 hour work week means limited availability. To be perfectly honest, I bent over backwards many times, used up vacation days, even when I was working on a graduate degree part-time for him. I had to add up the total hours worked a while back and over four years, I worked the equivalent of just over two months full-time -- minuscule against my full-time job. To add insult to injury, it's almost always the exact same type of work, so not much growth. The reward of wiping out entire weekends and evenings has essentially been beer money after taxes.

Naïve and led on
Worst of all, being a naïve fresh college grad, I was led on by the prospect of working full-time at the casual job. It would have been with a start-up at the forefront of innovation, not saddled by the bureaucracy of a large company, and close to home. This almost happened -- not the innovation, bureaucracy thing, just the quitting my reliable full-time job for the risky start-up. I printed my resignation letter, almost signed and delivered it, then did some serious thinking. The conclusion was that I hated both jobs, and, among other concerns, my casual boss rarely paid me on time (e.g. took a few months more than once).

After making that conclusion, the truth came out from my second employer: he didn't have the money to hire me full-time. I knew it in the back of my mind the entire time I worked with him. What he still wanted was for me to work with him part-time at a below market wage and the rest would be my problem.

In recent events
That careful analysis and conclusion woke something up in me, which led me to blow him off for the past year. Then I needed him to fill out a reference form for me a few months back. While the two other people I asked at my main job filled the exact same form out within two weeks, he took four months.

The gravy was that a few weeks back, he asked me again to help out on another job. There was a project that "required my help". Why? Because he bit off more than he could chew and/or wanted the money, but not to do the work. Fun fact: he charges more than 5 times per hour what he pays me -- typical of any company or employer. The job needed my help because it's summer and he planned two to three weeks of camping with his family. Weeks of stalling later and it became clear that he was expecting me to be on standby for the job at any point in time. Not one specific weekend like I thought, but at any time when it would be convenient for him. While he's out enjoying himself, I'm wiping out one or two weekends, once again, to make him money.

Saying "no"
And we finally get to the moral of the story: the importance of being able to say "no". I like to think that I wasn't guilt tripped into this job after blowing him off for a year, but his request started with how he finally filled in my reference and sent it. That thing should have taken an hour, at most, to fill out. He'd gone on at least a few week long vacations since I first asked. I must be a high priority on his list? For some stupid reason, I accepted and am stressing out. I hate this work. I don't need the money. He underpays me and uses me. And I still couldn't say "no".

The funny and sad thing is that it seems like a lot of people have trouble saying "no". We all do it. Someone asks for a phone number for you know what, invites you to a party, asks you to do something, etc. If we don't want to do it, we usually lie about having plans, make an excuse, or just change the topic. In cases where the message isn't clear, the question is asked again, which may eventually lead to a proper and outright refusal that removes all doubt. When that happens, feelings are usually hurt and the reason why we don't say "no" becomes clear.

One person whom I absolutely despise but also respect a lot does not have this issue. She does a lot of shady things, but she is absolutely fearless and speaks her mind to a fault. Those are some traits I wouldn't mind having.


No comments:

Post a Comment