Something I really, really struggle with is changing my focus from one thing to the next. I am an obsessive, hyper-intense thinker and producer of human words; corraling my fire-active mind to the side while I try to do calm things is like trying to shove a sabertooth tiger into a kitten carrier. I see the humor here and my need for self-compassion while I grapple with this, but I also worry about how it affects the animals I work with when my human mind won’t shut up in the presence of their greater wisdom and extraordinary ability to always be in the present-moment. I hope these better beasts than myself will yet love me and forgive me while I have the ridiculous role of caring for these Masters of Mind in whose grounded magic we humans are privileged just to be close to. Matter over mind.
I recently declined to continue interviewing with a stupid little start-up, for several reasons listed below. At least the hiring manager or recruiter or whoever they are had the idea to ask why I didn’t want their money. I responded in these exact words, as follows.
Feedback: any company that thinks it’s appropriate to ask a person what their “biggest weakness” is clearly lacks respect for other peoples’ privacy, dignity and society’s basic social norms. The only answer to this question you deserve is: none of your damn business. What’s yours? Such a question is completely inappropriate and absolutely insulting coming from a company; it is only appropriate for a person’s innermost private circle of relationships and is paramount to asking about a person’s medical or sexual history.
Furthermore, I don’t have have time, nor do I feel respected by, the idea of sitting through two or three rounds of interviews, including a lengthy phone call when I said “I have only a few minutes”, plus a “trial run” with a fake phone call in addition to test a person’s responses before they have even been trained. Extremely few companies for extremely few positions are that important or deserve such effort, and [your company] isn’t one of them. If a company like [your company] thinks it’s that much of a big deal, it’s clearly too self-absorbed and will likely treat applicants and people working for them as if we are desperate. And we are not.
The job market is excellent for job seekers right now, and nobody with a real life and self-respect is going to jump through these hoops for a little start-up that’s thinks it’s so hot. Even when the job market isn’t ideal for job-seekers, the strongest candidates still have more self-respect than to bend over and beg. They are willing to tough it out and use their intelligence for the right opportunity.
…on the job hunt.
Tell us about your previous experience and why you feel that would make you a good fit for this position.
I’m great at a lot of things, so there’s a lot of great reasons why you should hire me. One thing I’m great at is catching grammar mistakes, like the ones in your question: “experience” should have an “s” on the end, and “that” should be either “they” for plural or “it” for singular, if you insist.
Anyways, I know how to make an ancient friction fire from “rubbing two sticks together” as it’s colloquially referred to (it’s actually called a “bow-drill”), and that’s only a slice of it. You should see me in the 21st-century office. I’ve been through 10 years of work as a young adult bringing myself up in one carer that has taught me a lot, but now I’m setting my sights on better horizons, like you. You want me on your team for so many reasons, but to really find those out, you’ll need to offer me an interview (and hire me).
Tell us about any special skills or qualifications you feel would give you the ability to perform this job well.
I’m sure my aforementioned above answer was the bullseye you were really looking for. Oh, and I have a lot of fun with writing, communications and generally being one badass boss of a muffin who leads through compassion and deep respect for those I am responsible for and in service to. I’ve been the grunt, and now I want to take care of other grunts and keep them reassured that they don’t have to bail. They might even become your most amazing, profitable employees with the right investment of support in them.
What is your greatest strength?
What is your greatest weakness?
Chocolate. What’s yours?
What are some of your short-term and long-term goals?
My short term goals are to change careers, starting with Your Company™️, obviously the best little cohort in town. My long term goals are to retire filthy rich from flamboyant, risky investments and put my terrible, estranged mother in a retirement home.
My response to the request, “Please explain any gaps in employment greater than x [insert units of time here].”
Not everyone needs to work full time, all the time. Sometimes, people spend time doing other meaningful things that matter for their personal lives. I’m grateful that I’ve had the means to take the time for this. Work is important, but it’s not the sum of a full human life.
Hi, [Potential Employer],
It appears that this “questionnaire” is a personality test. I’d like to know the name and credentials of the person who created the test, as most pre-employment personality tests are inappropriate and do not deliver the data that a company is –or should be– looking for. I’ll also need a written guarantee that my answers would remain strictly confidential.
I’m a critical thinker: I’m empathic, but I’m also as sharp as a surgeon’s knife. I will question many things with serious skepticism. I am not desperate. I am a strong leader and I am confident in my ability to serve, speak up, work hard, take care of and show great respect for my employees whom I supervise, deal appropriate discipline with reasonable and humane compassion, and get the job done. I know the laws of right conduct and will stick to them, while actively developing new, healthier ways of building teamwork and success. I’ve been described as such: “Gentle stands for truth and justice and rewards respect and trust shown toward her with deep loyalty and commitment to devoted, high-quality work and enthusiasm for ongoing-learning in her career. She’s a self-starter who has attuned her capabilities to the fair win. Her communication is diamond-clear and she will always tell you the truth, but with that she’ll stand by you to help you become the best person you can be.”
That’s what you need to know about my personality. If this is a suitable answer to your questionnaire, we can move forward.
Gentle J. Pine
Cheap purple cloth hung from the rickety table; who puts a candle in the middle of a business meeting? The answer is someone who wants to make you think it isn’t a business meeting. This way, emotionally hungry people end up spilling more than they planned to. Afterwards you look back and are embarrassed you fell for it. The boss is still driving this ship even if you open with a song to the earth.
Some trends in business look humanely promising, like we’re about to all feel so cozy together at work, right at home. But I don’t believe it. I watch these trends, these “guided meditations” conducted by the development company before teardown of the house the old woman was evicted from. It is still a business meeting. In my demand for truth in writing I have demanded the truth of life. This means acknowledging the unhidden subjective reality of what is happening, in addition to objectivity, all elegantly complicated. It often isn’t pretty or ideal. It breaks through edited thoughts that, like the truth, aren’t edited beauty.
So when companies gather us together for a big company party to make us feel warm and trusting, I don’t believe it. They are lying to their workers’ hungry hearts. This is where truth-telling gets daunting because it’s damn disruptive, doesn’t make a safe LinkedIn cover, to tell this kind of truth. If a company can fire a person for any reason, at any time, this place is not a community. It isn’t mutual. If a company offers you a nap on a cot mid-shift it is not because they care about your wellbeing. It is because they want to get more productivity out of you. If getting productivity out of you for the dollar means killing you, then kill you they will. If they mean to get you to feel beholden to everybody as if you all were a family, especially to feel this loyalty for your boss, know that it will be your heart to suffer when you are no longer of use to them.
All of this isn’t to say that companies shouldn’t have uplifting business meetings or offer exhausted employees places to take a nap on their breaks. I, too, wish to make money and have comfort and prestige. I have come to see that lying to survive can be a moral value in its own right to human beings, lying about the truth of our hearts past the place of no return in life when we can nevermore be truly trusting before trust is earned, if we can ever be truly trusting at all. It is simply the strategy of our economical ecology. Seen in this light, the heaviness is taken out of it. It doesn’t need to be heartless. Now I have become shrewd enough to understand this, that the metaphorical killing-off of the time of childhood involves sacrificing half of one whole truth to survive by another. We must pay rent and buy food. We must, we always will, do attain our survival. So, too, do the smallest and greatest of beasts. But these motions are acts of survival, then become pangs of the heart. When the press upon your throat for survival is passed down from management, remember what you are capable of.
Karoshi is a Japanese word, meaning “overwork”. Overexertion. Men sleeping in train terminals and marching to death down fluorescent-lit halls are the demons of the modern Japanese work-culture, the death cubicle of endless hours because they think their companies actually care about them. They have been taught to believe they owe their corporation some kind of devotion. Great Corporation loves you as Father loves you. Americans have, until latter years, often been a bit too shrewd for this. We once were the unionists –with all of the problems and corruptions that came with it. Now, it is trendy to force “collaboration” by getting rid of privacy in the workroom. It would be more sincere to admit it.
The following is adapted from a letter I was inspired to write to my director at the school I work at. It has helped me clarify my own thoughts on consciously developing joy in my work, while thinking more seriously about striving to be in a position where I am able to use my talents to my full potential.
What a beautiful summer this is. The rain is paying off!
After nearly a couple years of working here, I feel called to dig deeper and contribute much more of my abilities. It feels really good to come to this realization.
Recently, [my life partner] and I had been considering moving much further out to Duvall, where I lived a few years ago. That would’ve given me a very long commute and altered my hopes with [the school]; however we have made our final decision to stay here in Shoreline for at least several more years, maybe the long term. It is great to be this close to the school. I was also considering doing part-or-full time college again, but have put a pause on that while I discern what kind of graduate education, if any, I can use, and the expense of it as well.
So, with the decisions turning out this way, and the energy I have feeling more abundant, I’d like to see about possibilities of doing more here.
My current position [after-school activity care provider] has already taught me so much. I see the great value of this program, the freedom of restorative rest and unbridled creativity it brings to the kids. I feel deeply honored when the children (and parents!) communicate to me, in their numerous ways, how much my role here means to them. What a gift I didn’t expect. Kids have so much wisdom of their own that all of us adults can learn a lot from!
With that being said, I have been feeling as though my talents are not able to be utilized fully in this position. This feels like a healthy sort of restlessness, a greater clarity about what does and doesn’t return to me a sense of fulfillment in my work.
A few weeks ago, when I was working those two full days substituting with [my colleague] in preschool, I had such a sense of fulfillment in that I was able to use my talents to design and co-lead the two whole days for the children. [My colleague] and I worked amiably as two equals in our gifts to make those days rewarding for the children and for us as a team. She knew the outline of the class day and so kindly filled me in on the basic expectations. She lead the snack and nap times and so much of the supportive logistics that I did not have knowledge of. For my part, I felt the freedom to take initiative in leading the children on a nature exploration in the wetlands, reading to them with my animated voice (so fun for me and the kids), talking about plants, maps, birds, social and physical awareness of other humans and animals, implanting curiosity and questions to carry, art and physical movement, and being my “tomboy mentor” self that I do well with kids of all ages.
I think of mentoring as an ancient way of imparting wisdom and understanding, modeling joyful wonder. It is a way of teaching through play, curiosity and love for the beautiful world. The centrality of the living world is of great importance here. This is what has drawn me to play-based work with younger kids, and a growing interest in engaging the intellects of older children. I believe that the spirit of teaching and learning, with mentoring at its root, is the act of remembering what we already know within us as a species. Small humans are not born as empty vessels, but with a vivified interior life of virtuous instincts that yearn to be honored and encouraged. This way of learning is deeply anthropological to our species, the forerunner to didactic teaching as inherited from the Renaissance and now commonly practiced in industrial and developing societies. Gladly, though, we are now experiencing a renewed interest in this timeless way of cultivating young humans into their whole selves.
I mention those two days substituting in preschool as a positive example of days well spent, in contrast to some of the frustrations I have been experiencing in my current position for a while. This is partly the come-and-go nature of the after-school drop-in setting (naturally) where I do not necessarily have the time, structure or situational confidence to practice uninterrupted mentoring with a given group of kids. When I start to really engage authentically in mentoring, even a simple project with one or several kids, no sooner is one of them called off to do something else, distracted by another interest, or gone home.
And this is okay– they need this freedom of unstructured time. In a traditional village setting, mentoring works well with the informality of relationships, as parents and mentors would share relaxed friendships and even living space. But we are in a very formal school setting of the modern world, with appropriate separations between here-and-there. I am at peace with that. Adaptability is prime. So I feel called to give my talents where I have more space to do real leadership, more of a conscious desire on the part of parents for their children to benefit from my own work with them; more jurisdiction….
…I am wondering what other opportunities may be open for me. Are there any Teacher’s Assistant positions open where I could practice co-leading, or fulfilling assistant leadership? Would it be very disruptive if I were offered something else than [the after-school program] and needed to do only a new position instead?… As much as I want to help [the after-school program], I really don’t want to miss a good career opportunity, either. What kind of further work experience and education would I need to someday advance to the role of lead teacher? Would creating an additional whole new program in mentoring Natural Awareness be an option? Might I teach this as an after-school class in addition to [the after-school program], as [other staff members] have done?
Thank you, truly, for the times that you have expressed appreciation and encouraging warmth to myself and others. It has boosted my confidence in working here and improving myself. I hope I can keep contributing!
“Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”
–Kahlil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’
I am changing my mind about work. It’s not been easy, but it’s up to me! I am among the blessed to have a good job. My only problem is my occasional fatigue, anxiety, and self-doubt left over from years of depression and some disadvantaged early experiences of frankly near-abusive work in my formative years as a teen. The problem is not the job I am lucky to have (working with kids at a beautiful private elementary school a 30-minute walk or 5-minute drive from where I live!) but rather, it is the natural challenge of staying inspired, pushing my own edges, expanding my abilities, practicing compassion for myself and others, and advocating for my readiness to grow into a greater role in the organization.
I know that whatever I do, I want to do it with vision and joy, but calling up the magic in the midst of the daily grind sometimes takes practicing tremendous grace and imagination, again and again and again. This is the real work hidden underneath the work we are paid money for. Put on new “perspecticles” when routine grinds on enchantment, or when fatigue threatens the upright mind. And let’s have compassion on ourselves: everybody feels this way sometimes, even people living their “dream job”.
from The Prophet
by Kahlil Gibran
You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?
Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.
But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.
You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.
Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”
But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.