Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dear People in Customer Service

I'm taking a break from the last two weeks of hectic grad school wrap up to rant a little (did you miss me?). I am going to preface this with my work experience: about 3 years in a retail, face-to-face setting, and almost 9 years in a call center. That's a long time in customer service. I've trained customer service representatives. I did that for 2.5 years. I know what I'm talking about.

Getting my hair done is a treat. On average, a hair appointment for me, for a cut and color, can go anywhere from $50 - $70, depending on how complex I want my dye job to be. I haven't worked, aside from a 10 hour a week graduate assistantship, for 2 years, so I hoarded gift certificates from Christmas and my birthday so that I could get my hair done today, two weeks before I graduate, 5 days before a job interview for a job I really want. My life right now is busy and stressful, and getting my hair done is relaxing. I know my hairdresser, she's family, and the only person I want to touch my hair. She owns her salon and booth rents to other hairdressers. Today, as she was doing my hair, she was nearly going out of her mind as one of the girls that booth rents from her chattered at her client nonstop about her personal life. It was obnoxious. I offered to get rude.

Another preface, that's relevant to me: I am a weird combination of A-type personality and huge introvert. I get annoyed easily, I don't look outwardly approachable, and when I'm in a situation where I am receiving service from someone, I usually want it done as soon as possible. This is why I love the nail salon I go to. Their English is limited so they don't feel obligated to carry on a conversation, they're busy so they're working as quickly as possible. I'm in and out on a good day in about an hour with a fresh fill and polish. It's a win-win for me.

Somewhere, somehow, the service industry interpreted excessive chattiness as good customer service. That this loquaciousness was somehow endearing to a customer and built loyalty (and in addendum to this, calling every customer "hun" "sweetie" or, to my horror getting coffee the other day, "darlin'"). It's actually not. I wasn't even her client and I was getting annoyed by her constant stream of excessive, personal information. Yes, in an industry where you have regular customers, it's okay to get to know them, it's nice to chat. But, if you're going to do that, let the conversation be two-way, know your client's personality, and remember you're in a busy public place, and keep the conversation professional. I've overheard many, many conversations in the salon over the years that I never wanted to, and I'm sure clients didn't care to hear, either. Hell, when monitoring calls in the call center, I overheard agents sharing way too much with customers they didn't know, and you could hear in the customer's voice how awkward they felt, and how much they didn't want to have to hear it, but didn't want to be rude and interrupt (except one guy who told a coworker of mine ages ago "will you just stop talking?" which still makes me laugh to this day, because she had one of those horrible, saccharine voices that makes you want to stab out your ear drums with a hot poker).

Save the personal conversations for your friends and family, not your clients, whatever service industry you're in. No one wants it. It's awkward and your coworkers secretly hate you.

In addition, I think this sounds like a fabulous idea.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Letter to my Youngest Niece on the Second Day of Trump's Presidency

Dear Rachel,

You probably won't see this unless someone directly links it to you, since you don't use Facebook, but this is something that's been composing itself in the back of my mind now for years. Composing itself, ever since that Easter a couple years ago when you, barely 15, started expressing an interest in politics and a desire to see a woman in the highest elected office in this country. That Easter, when I saw you visibly withdraw your passion when your grandfather (not my Dad, mind you) stated "the worst thing we ever did was give women the vote." With that utterance I felt rage well up inside of me, and I am truly sorry I didn't speak up, but instead buried myself in the glass of wine in my hand and worked on getting drunk.

With that single utterance, he reduced your thoughts, ideals, and hopes into an insignificance he ground under the heel of patriarchy, and I should have spoken up. I was so happy to see your burgeoning feminism at the table, and so incredibly sad to see someone in your life who is supposed to love and support you quash it. I'm sorry I didn't let my anger manifest into words. On this day where so many women around the world are voicing their anger and fear by demonstrating political dissent, reminding the patriarchy that our voices will be heard, I offer my humblest and sincerest apology. I have been dwelling on that day for years, and you have no idea how much that one harmful phrase has stuck with me. I will no longer remain silent. I may not be marching for us today, but I will no longer remain silent in the face of a regime that wants to subjugate women and commodify them.

You are an incredibly intelligent, articulate, generous, gentle, and kind person, Rachel, and don't let this cruel world strip that from you and turn you cynical. Seize hold of that burgeoning feminism I saw manifest years ago, and speak up for yourself, your friends, your loved ones. Get involved, be active. Get to know victims, marginalized people, vulnerable people. Use your incredible capacity for caring and compassion to make change in this world. Whatever career you embrace, use it as a platform for good, but please, I implore you, never lose your values, your ideals, your autonomy. Stand up for what is right and never allow someone to drown out your voice.

I'm sorry I didn't stand up for you then, but I will and am now. I have your back, and the backs of all women whose voices have been drowned out.

You are not property.

You are not a commodity.

You have agency.

You are strong, whether you realize it yet or not.

I'm proud to call you my niece.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thanks, Obama

I posted briefly on Facebook this morning, as the Inauguration proceedings were underway in Washington D.C., that I would not be participating in the Women's March locally, not because I don't support the cause (I wholeheartedly do. Dissent is political. Dissent makes change) but because I know, as a person living with bipolar disorder, that the sheer crowd would trigger a negative reaction in me. I am, however, incredibly proud of the friends and family that will be marching tomorrow, locally and in the nation's capital. It is incredibly important that we use our voices, that we stand up for ourselves, loved ones, marginalized populations, at-risk populations, humanity.

I will admit, watching footage of Barack and Michelle Obama waving farewell and stepping onto Marine One made me tear up a bit. There went one of the biggest champions of human rights, women's rights, gay and transgender rights, health, and public health. So, without a shred of irony I say, "thanks, Obama."

Thank you for the Affordable Care Act. Is it a perfect piece of legislature? No. Is it huge and incredibly complex and in need of reform? Yes. As we face a vague plan of "repeal and replace," I worry that the good work Obama has done will be undone by the incoming administration. Many people focus on the high premiums on the plans offered in the Marketplace, and the struggles to navigate the website. Consider, however, that the ACA removed the ability for insurance companies to deny you coverage based on preexisting conditions. Looking at things through the lens of public health, the ACA has been monumental in healthcare reform. The ACA introduced value-based purchasing and improved quality measures that have improved healthcare delivery and health outcomes. While the HITECH Act was implemented prior to the ACA, it has flourished and expanded within the last several years, opening up health exchanges that collect, examine, and report on population health data. Thanks, Obama, for trying to resolve healthcare disparities and gaps in coverage.

I won't lie. As someone in her last semester in a Master of Public Health program facing an administration that has already demonstrated it doesn't care about the health and welfare of Americans, I'm scared. I'm scared but this degree puts me in a position to advocate for the health needs and rights of all people.

This post isn't nearly as coherent and cohesive as I would like it to be. I am sure, in the near future, there will be plenty to write about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Harmful Ways We Think

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper said that "the most dangerous phrase... is 'we've always done it that way.'" A collective resistance to change exists in this world, and I used to embrace it with open arms. I found change scary and harmful-- after all, if ain't broke don't fix it, right? But I've realized this is a harmful way of thinking. As part of dealing with my bipolar disorder, I've had to become incredibly introspective and self-aware, which includes examining the way I think about things and react to things. Change makes me panic, but I realize it's necessary for growth. On January 1st, I wrote on my Facebook "I've realized over the past few weeks that some of my ways of thinking seriously limit my personal and professional development, and I'm going to work hard at changing my own mind, no matter how scary it might be." 

One of the biggest changes I've made was my decision to go to graduate school, and as I enter my last semester, I face new changes: transitioning back into the workforce. I've already dipped my toe in the water, and have already been rejected for one job (I was quiet about the application and rejection, I've processed it, and while I'm bummed, I'm okay with it). I regularly search for public health/health information technology jobs to get a feel for what is available. When I entered my program, I did it under the auspices that I was doing a duty to my state, to Maine, that needed my help so much. I was going to champion my fellow rural poor, I was going to champion reproductive justice and mental health. And I was going to absolutely, unwaveringly do this in Maine because I was born here, and dammit, I'm going to die here. 

Why, my fellow Mainers, do we get into this mindset? Why do we view the outside world as scary and not worthy of even visiting? I'm in the bad habit of reading the comments on articles online (I know, I know, never read the comments) and I've seen salt-of-the-earth Mainers say things like "I went to [state] once. I didn't take to it. Didn't see the appeal, I'll stay right where I am." We are ingrained to have this horrible world view of anything outside of the state, and to look at people From Away with disdain (I am guilty of this), and even treat our largest city, Portland, as not part of the state. We are formed of the earth of the state and will not be moved. I love my state, and I love my people, but the resistance to change, the unwillingness to be open minded to new ideas, new people, and new experiences is suffocating. 

I was never one of those kids who said at high school graduation "I can't wait to get out of this state." I was one of the "I will never leave" kids. But as I reach the end of my career, and I look at job opportunities and median salaries (because while job satisfaction and knowing I'm helping others is important, so too, is salary) I realize I need to be open to new experiences and opportunities. I have never lived outside of Central Maine. While I am more traveled than probably the average Mainer, I've never fully experienced life in a more urbanized area, I've never been in a culturally diverse area. My resistance to change has narrowed my worldview and that is a hurdle to overcome, in and of itself. When I look at the careers of people I admire in my life, I see movement, I see change. I can help people in Maine, and elsewhere, but I can't remain static doing it. I can't remain in this holding pattern of resistance to change. I can't, and I won't. 

Maine is a special place. Escaping to the forests makes me feel refreshed and healed. But I can't put up a wall of resistance to change if opportunity arises. That way of thinking is harmful, and I can't limit myself.