As we head into a new year, I ponder my resolution to have better balance in my life on a number of levels. One of those (very important) levels is in the area of stress reduction and reducing worry in my life. I think these are things we all struggle with, and recently I've come to realize there's a great deal that we impose on ourselves, especially when it comes to our relationships.
This realization came after having several people tell me things that other people said and/or did over the past few weeks and asked what I thought of it. I remembered that when I was under a therapist while going through my life changes a few years ago, one of the things she told me was that the secret to finding balance was realizing what was and wasn't my business. "You concern yourself with your responsibilities and what you control and let go of the things in the hands of others," she said. That's certainly true, and in fact remembering this advice upon being asked my opinion on these various situations and issues made me realize that people, in general, bring on a lot of their own stress by worrying about or fretting over things that other people think, say or do - things they have absolutely no control over.
Why do we do this? My first reaction was that it's arrogance. Frankly, we all have a tendency to beleive that everything is all about us - and that's wrong. The truth is that everything people think, say and do is all about THEM. It's a reflection of how they see the world. Even if they say that "others made me do it," the truth is that they made the decision on how to perceive things and on how to proceed. Nobody "makes" anybody do anything. Plus, by nature, people are going to do what's best for them and the ones closest to them. Why should they do something that benefits you 100% and them none at all when you aren't the center of THEIR world?
So there's one reason, but I don't think that's all of it, nor the major portion. In fact, I think if that were the whole reason, then it would mean that people in general are extremely selfish and short sighted, and I don't believe that such a narrow view applies to most people most of the time. Some maybe, but absolutely not all. Maybe not most. And remember, I said there's some truth to this. Maybe it's a small part, but I don't think that's a "once size fits all" explanation for it. Most people learn, grow, and gain a wider perspective on the world and as such, they aren't so shallow.
I believe another reason is that we want everybody to like us. The problem is, I recently read that there was actually some scientific study that at least 10% of people aren't going to like you. Frankly, I was surprised the percentage was that low. I thought it would be closer to 30%, but the latest study I read said 10% so we'll run with that. Why is this? Plain and simple, personality differences. Some types just don't play well together. If you don't believe it, ask any extremely emotional person I've come in contact with and they'll tell you I'm mean and don't give a crap about their feelings. I am, by nature, a person that leans more toward logic and reason in making decisions than emotion. I usually don't get along well with extremely emotional types that "just want peace" and "want everybody happy right now" because I beleive happiness comes from investing the time and hard work to do things right no matter how you feel about it "right now." If you do what's right, then it will work out in the end, and that's a happiness that last; not a vapor of high emotion that wears off when the party is over and the consequences have to be paid. In fact, since I've been working in professional licensing, I'd say my tendency to make decisions based on logic and reason have become a stronger because by nature of my profession, I'm obligated to do what's right no matter how people feel about it. I don't think that's a bad thing (of course), but I've caught some flack about it because I'm female, and by stereotype I'm supposed to be all about feelings. While I'm ok to say "alright, forget the 10% and thank God for and enjoy the other 90%, well, some people get awfully fixated on that 10% and believe that if they work harder then they can get a 100% approval rating. It seems their effort would be better spent nurturing relationships with the other 90% but in fact, sometimes they turn on the ones on their side to gain approval they'll never have, counting on forgiveness from that 90% that might come, but not realizing that it will have a higher price than they bargained for because broken trust is a very hard thing to rebuild. But it happens, all the time. I've experienced it; I've seen it; I've written about it. Hey, I'm a writer. The ugly underside of humanity is a playground of inspiration. Expose it to me at your own risk.
Just kidding - maybe. And a sidenote on the emotion thing: I'm interested to see if the stereotype of "hysterical emotion" in women downplays as more generations of women have careers.Working women don't have time to fret over every little wayward comment, rolled eye, questionable social media post, tear or tirade that comes their way. Or at least, me and my colleagues don't. But we'll see as time tells this particular tale.
So there's that. But not all people are emotional and out for approval ratings that would make politicians jealous, so reason #2 can't apply to everybody. But it does apply to enough that I believe it should be considered.
There is one more reason, and I think it applies to most of us. I believe the reason people get tied up in what others think, say and do is because they don't want to be alone in how they think or feel. They want to know that others agree with them. They want others to have an opinion with them, or to get mad with them, or to be sad with them, or to take up the cause with them because they don't want to be the only freak swimming against the tide. They want to know they're like everybody else and what the other person is doing is wild/selfish/stupid/crazy/nonsense/whatever. They don't want to be alone in their opinion or feelings because they don't want to look in the mirror and ask "is it them, or is it me?" We all want to be right. We all want the world to understand that our opinion is just as important as everybody elses'. We all want respect. Nobody wants to be a nobody. They want people to know that they're here, that they have value, and that they are just as important as the other 7+ billion people in the world.
Here's the thing, though: Going about it by getting tangled up in other peoples' business is a sign of insecurity. If you truly walk in faith and you're confident in yourself as the authentic human being you were created to be, then you don't need to beg or scream for attention. You humbly go about your own business, believing that the life God set before and the purposes you serve speak for themselves.
That's the cure. That's how you break free from this stress. You get busy living your own life and tending to your own businss and have the grace to accept others and the decisions they make without intruding into their lives with your opinions.
Does this mean you ignore others and don't care what they do? Of course not. You should always do your best to help people in need and if there's something you can do to help others on their life path, you certainly should. The key is to use common sense and discernment. Yes, we all have opinions on things, but we don't need to share them all the time. Everything that flies through your head doesn't need to fly out of your mouth. If you aren't asked for your opinion or advice, assume it's not wanted or needed and keep it to yourself. I'd even go so far as to say that you should still use caution in giving advice even if you ARE asked for it. As one of the elves said in The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring, "elves don't give advice because all paths may run ill." Think before you speak. If in doubt, don't. And realize that advice is a take it or leave it thing - and in many cases, people leave it, so be prepared to have your advice or opinion rejected just in case and be prepared to not get offended. And please, for the love of God, if it won't make any difference and you have a thought - don't. Stop right there and go no further. If it's done and/or there's no way it's changing no matter what anybody says and you really need to get it out, set up a private blog or buy a journal to work it out, but don't go off on tirades and complain to everybody in the world about things you can't control involving people close to you. And don't ask or expect people to take sides with you unless you want to do the equivalent of renting a billboard that says I'M THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM. It makes you look bad and it makes other people run like hell from you when they see you coming. If it's something so big that you can't live with it, find a way to either deal with it or distance yourself from the situation. Just because a war's going on doesn't mean you have to be a soldier in it. Other people might want you to have their problems, but they can't draft you. You don't have to accept them and if you choose not to accept their problems, well then, it's over.
The point of this mile long blog is that I'm coming to understand that balance is something that we have to strive for in every area of life, and personal relationships are certainly a big element there. We do live in the world, with people, so having good, balanced relationships is an extremely important thing. And one way we can achieve balance in our relationships is by not being a busybody, minding our own business, and having the grace to let it be.
Thanks for hanging in there with me on this one. I hope you had a Happy Friday and that you have a great weekend.
If you work, you serve others. This is a simple fact of life. The issue is, who are you serving? Customer bases vary widely but there are some things that are universal no matter who you're working with, be it the utility company or a government agency. Here are a few tips to make those calls easier so you get the best (and fastest) customer service possible:
1. Check the website. Everybody has a website now - heck, even my PARROTS have a website, so it stands to reason that companies do too. These websites are updated frequently by experts and usually contain information that customers inquire about most. The purpose of the website is not only to provide services to the public, but to answer some of the most frequently asked questions and to provide guidance on issues that they receive the most calls and e-mails about. Checking the website might save you a call, or at least lead you in a direction where you can fine-tune your inquiries to get more specific information quickly and easily.
2. Plan your call carefully and be mindful of the schedule. If there's a major deadline within the next week, I can assure you that the call volume is high and you will be more likely to be placed on hold or wind out leaving a message that may not be returned for a while. Try to avoid deadline times by planning ahead or, if it can wait, calling a couple of days after the deadline passes. (You can usually find out if you're approaching a deadline time by following Suggestion #1). Another time to avoid are days immediately before or after a major holiday. Staffing is usually low before the holiday (when everybody wants to use those precious vacation days), and call volume is typically extremely high after a holiday (when everybody goes back to work). And Friday afternoons are usually bad too, because everybody wants a Friday off, so if there's leave to burn (in terms of "use it or lose it" days or comp time) that's usually when staff cashes in. The trick is that you want to call when there's maximum staffing, but not extremely high call volume - this increases your chances of getting a human being with correct answers quickly and easily.
3. Read the instructions all the way through. I understand that it's a knee jerk reaction to pick up the telephone once you hit a sentence you don't understand. Don't do it. Keep reading because the answer might be further down the page. I can't count the number of "oh yea, right there it is, I just quit reading" comments I've heard over the years.
4. NEVER pick up the telephone when you're panicked or heightened emotional state unless it's a medical emergency and you're calling 911. I kid you not - I've answered the telephone to full blown hyperventelation many times, and those are awkward calls. I have a psychology degree, but most people in administrative jobs studied areas like business management or accounting and they may not have been trained to "talk you off a cliff." Practice what I call the 10-10-10 rule: Take 10 slow breaths, count to 10 slowly, and wait 10 minutes. Then you'll be able to frame your question in a way that gets results and answers quickly and calmly.
5. Collect your questions and focus on the person you're talking to as they answer. As you puruse the website and read the instructions, make a list of your questions. Don't interrupt the person in the middle of a sentence with a follow up question before they finish answering the last question, or be one of those people that says "oh! One last question!" ten times. Because in those situations you usually wind out asking the same thing 3 times because you were so busy formulating new questions that you didn't hear the answer to the one you were asking.
6. Limit the hypothetical questions. If you say "what if I ..." or "suppose I were to ..." more than twice, then we suspect that you're looking for ways to duck the red tape (and we will look for ways to trap you into admitting it). Be straightforward and give us the facts, please.
7. Rephrasing the question 7 ways won't change the answer. And "call shopping" (where you realize it's a rotating line and keep calling to work your way through the staff to get the answer you want) is a trick we pick up on around the third call. Everybody in that department has been trained the same way and they'll give you the same answer. No matter how many times you call or how many ways you try to rephrase it.
8. Be respectful. What I mean is that if the person says "I don't know but I can send you to somebody that does know," immediately cease and desist from asking any more questions until you're routed to the right person. Because your "wait a minute, let me ask you this while I have you ..." questions will lead to more "I don't knows" and a delay in getting the information you need while you bark up the wrong tree. Nobody knows everything and despite the current push to "cross train," there are people that know some things better than others. They're trying to help you by sending you to the most knowledgeable person to answer your question. Let them do it.
9. Be patient. Not every question has an immediate answer and they may have to research what you're asking about. So don't wait until the last minute. Plan ahead.
10. Don't lie. I know this sounds silly, but people do call and outright lie about things, only to be embarassed when we use that annoying database at the computer we're sitting behind and catch them in it. That can lead to serious trouble in some situations, so please, no matter how embarassing or hurtful it is to your pride, just tell the truth. We will act with discresion and will do our best to help you - but don't say you mailed the check and it cleared last week when it's lying on the table in front of you. Because they'll look it up, see it didn't arrive, and the next question will be for you to send them a copy of the cancelled check to prove it. Awkward!
A lot of getting good customer service is to use discernment and good, old fashioned common sense in dealing with companies. Be courteous, professional, respectful and plan appropriately and you'll get the fastest and best customer service available. And really, these are good rules to apply to all of your relationships.
That's all for today.
Last month, an interviewer asked me how I deal with the issue of technology in my writing. Specifically, they asked if I had concerns that including computers, cell phones, and other technological advances would "date" my work too quickly. My answer to this question was that technology is such an integral part of our real day to day lives that we can't afford to ignore it. In fact, I believe that not including technology runs the risk of dating your work by making it seem more antiquitated than it really is from the start. So I choose to use it, and in fact it's such an integral part of my books that I hope readers will grant me the grace of being as patient with this evolving nature of our lives in fantasy as they are in reality.
That's well enough, but as I was working on an article for the Mystery Readers and Working Writers Newsletter, I began to look at the issue from the other end and wonder: Am I as understanding of this issue as a reader as I am as a writer? The truth is, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and only started reading mysteries myself in the past 3 years. Fantasy typically shuns technology in favor of magic, and sci-fi is so inventive that I can stretch my mind to imagine any number of advances for the setting. But I wonder how I'll fare as I continue to read in the mystery genre and find myself in that place as a reader where the characters are using devices that were updated last month. I'd like to say I'll be as patient as I hope my own readers would be but can't help but ponder when, say, I pick up Die Softly, by Christopher Pike, and wonder how that story would unfold now that cameras have gone digital and every home has a computer (or 2, or 3, and who knows how many mobile devices). Or Whisper of Death (also by Christopher Pike) and wonder how that story would have unfolded if they found those short stories foretelling their deaths on an e-reader instead of a notebook.I still love these books (and believe it or not, I pluck them off my shelf and re-read them typically once a year or so), but I can't help but ponder how those plots would have developed with some of our modern advances.
Maybe that's not a bad thing. In fact, it might be good for our imagination by helping writers imagine twists on some of those old plots, and readers to keep them interested not only in the new things coming out but the older things that inspired them. For example, I'm sure I noticed that I mentioned 2 Christopher Pike books in the last paragraph. He was my favorite YA writer when I was in my teens, and I credit his work for being a huge influence on the development of Blurry and even my upcoming book, Anywhere But Here (although that is an adult novel).
It's an interesting question to ponder and I'd like to pose it to readers. How do you feel about including technology in writing? Good idea? Bad idea? Or the unavoidable pink elephant in the room that each individual has to decide whether to address or ignore?
Happy Friday everybody, and I hope you have an outstanding weekend.