I’m often asked if the things that happened to Jana Lanning in my recent novel, Anywhere But Here, actually happened to me. For those of you that haven’t read this novel, Jana Lanning, the protagonist, is denied admission to graduate school, finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, helps her best friend get married and move out of town, and has to settle for a job that she’s overqualified for – and all of this happens within two weeks of getting her undergraduate degree. Then to make things worse, the office where she works starts a merger with another firm and Jana finds herself on the wrong end of office politics that are the final straw in her battle with depression. The thing people seem the most interested in are the office politics. People want to know if the happenings at Dixon Financial are reflective of my job before it was transferred to a new agency a couple of years ago.
In response to that I’d say not entirely, but I can’t deny that some things that happened to me early in my career are reflected in people and events that take place in the book. I know that’s cryptic, but bear in mind two things: The people and events are fictionalized and that was accomplished through a mixture of my personal experiences, experiences I’ve seen and heard of from other people, and instances I’ve read about in books, magazines, news and other media. It came from a vast pool and I’ll admit that I had experience with being on the wrong end of office politics – heck, how could you write about it even from a fictionalized perspective unless you lived it in some way – but it’s also a universal issue that anybody working in an office environment is going to be on one end or the other of. And sorry folks, but there are probably going to be times when you find yourself on the wrong side, at least from the perspective of the majority.
My purpose in both writing Anywhere But Here and this entry isn’t to bash my former workplace. These things happened a decade ago, and I must admit that I said and did things that weren’t wise and didn’t lead to the best resolution in the situations I faced. I certainly learned from those experiences and in retrospect, I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life or I certainlywouldn’t be where I am now. The purpose is to share lessons learned, because this is something that I believe everybody in the workforce faces at some time. It makes you feel isolated and lonely when it happens, but the truth is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people face it but few talk about it because frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I used to think that people playing office politics were selfish jerks that like to hurt people, but experience has shown me that it actually grows from a root of fear. People that play with power are insecure and doubt their own ability, so they create an elaborate game of turning people and things to their advantage. I’ve found that there are 2 good ways to identify a person that is likely to use power to their advantage:
1.They cling tightly to cliques that are made up of people that are higher on the chain of command than they are; and
2.They don’t associate with anybody on the chain of command below them unless it’s absolutely necessary - and those people better give them what they want immediately or it’s insubordination.
It’s the people in category #2 that usually find themselves on the losing end of office politics because any wrong word or deed will be met with fierce retaliation. I won’t say that I never see office politics anymore, but I have found that I find myself in these situations a lot less since I’ve been reclassified to a mid-level position. I’d like to think this is because I’ve proven that my knowledge and abilities are valuable, but it’s more likely that I learned valuable lessons on how to deal with these types from previous experience – and people know it.
So what’s the secret to dealing when you’re the victim of office politics? If you’re right, stand by that. Don’t ever cave in and take the quick and easy way out because that’s a temporary end. If they’d turn on you once, they’ll turn on you again. Caving in only shows that you can be taken advantage of, and they will milk that dry, plus the consequences of doing wrong will follow you a lot longer than standing up for what’s right. They might not like you, but they’ll respect you and at least know not to let you catch them with their hand in the cookie jar again. If you aren’t right, correct yourself immediately and stick to your guns in walking down the right road. And whichever situation you’re in, it’s imperative that you have patience. Truth will show itself in time and it will be end game then. It might take months or even years for things to come around, but they will and you’ll be better off for it. The reward will come in patient endurance, and it will be something that nobody can deny. Sure, there are people that are so stubborn that they’ll refuse to change their mind no matter what happens, but don’t worry about them. Leave them in their ignorance and move on because it’s highly probably that they’ll be gone in time themselves.
I believe Jana Lanning in Anywhere But Here is a good personification of office politics gone wrong, because she’s the one in the weakest position. She didn’t do anything wrong and in fact suffered for doing right, but recent personal losses kept her from taking a stand in the right way and the right timing. The people that create these situations are masters at turning things against you even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s exhausting to constantly defend your own character. Unfortunately, she found this out too late and suffered the consequences of crossing the wrong people simply by being who she was and not deferring to people doing things wrong. She was right and had proof of it, but she didn’t know how to present that truth in a combative work environment. That happens sometimes, and it’s awful. I think the worst offence in the world is to have to suffer for other peoples’ mistakes, and office politics are the ultimate example of that.
I think this is why eople tell me that they find Jana Lanning so likeable. She’s a good person that doesn’t deserve the hard knocks that come her way from people taking advantage of her shy nature, youth, and inexperience. She makes the same mistakes that all of us made in our early adulthood and we understand her confusion at why life is kicking her around. Reality is a hard teacher, and it’s the only one that can do the job once school leaves off. Remember the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” from the 80’s? That strange, new world opening up is the exact thing that Jana faces, and we understand exactly where she’s coming from. She, like the rest of us, has to learn to find those gems of opportunity in the rubble of defeat to rebuild a new life from shattered dreams. In some ways, we may even relate to her right where we’re at, because life is always teaching us lessons.
So no, I didn’t start out in life exactly like Jana did. I actually did marry my college sweetheart, but I never made it to graduate school because I found other things that I believed were worth more in my life than higher education. I never struggled with depression, but I knew (and still know) many who do battle that demon, and I hope Jana’s struggle helps people with depression understand that this is a battle they can win if they stay in the fight. But yes, I did go through an office merger in my early years in the workforce, and I found myself prey to the power plays, albeit in much different circumstances. All I can say is that wisdom comes from experience, and I gained plenty in those few years.
And lest you think it’s impossible for poor Jana to face so much at one time, I call your bluff. Too much smashing my life to bits was the catalyst for my next novel, Splinter – but that’s one for a future blog entry. I’ll address it closer to the release date in mid 2013. Until then, enjoy Anywhere But Here and my other books - information on them and links to buy are on the other tabs of this website. I hope you find entertainment and inspiration in them.
That’s all today.
I got my first “dud” Christmas gift when I was 16 years old. It was one of those “trolls” that were so popular in the early to mid-90’s. I don’t know if any of you remember them – they were small dolls with outfits and wild hair. They were quite the craze at the time, and one of my friends thought I’d like one.
I hated it. But I didn’t want to offend her, so I put on a smile and said “wow, it’s interesting.” Unfortunately, this friend didn’t know me well enough to know that “interesting” from me could me in a good or bad way. I meant the bad way. She thought I meant the good way. And the word spread. Then someone got the bright idea: Let’s help Sherri build up a troll collection.
I wound out with countless of these hideous, ugly figurines. The rumor even made it’s way to my family, who also bestowed me with several to add to my “collection.” I didn’t know what to do, because I understood their intentions were good and didn’t want to offend anybody. So for years, I had a corner of my room devoted to this hideous, ugly monstrosity building up in my life. By the time Rick and I started dating 3 years later, the collection took up an entire shelf on my bookshelf. They represented every holiday or possible event that had taken place in my life.
“That’s an interesting collection,” Rick commented.
“I hate them!” I said, finally cracking. “Somebody thought I liked them and told everybody!”
“Really? Then why do you have them up? That’s only going to encourage people to give you more of them.”
That made me think. I was in college by that time, and had lost touch with many of the old high school friends that gave me those horrible monsters. So I took the collection down. A few friends that visited asked about them later and I told them that I outgrew it and was no longer interested in the collection. Their popularity was waning by that time anyway (thank God), so I didn’t face too many questions over it.
Looking back, that whole three year scenario was avoidable. I could have been honest and told my friends that I appreciated the unique gift, but I didn’t want to make a collection out of them. Or I could have “regifted” it to a friend at another school the next year. I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but honesty really is better in the long run, and I resented those trolls for far longer than any feelings would have been hurt by just saying from the start that I didn’t like the things.
The point of this entry is that you’re going to get a gift that’s a dud every now and then. We celebrate the holidays every year, so it’s inevitable that something is going to be a bust from time to time. The secret is to handle these situations appropriately and as discretely as possible. If it’s a wrong size or style or if it’s something you can’t have because of allergy or health problems, be honest. Remember that people give you gifts because they want you to use them, and they’ll feel bad if you can’t. If it’s something that can be corrected, by all means talk to them and get it exchanged or refunded so the problem can be corrected. If it’s something that you can’t have because of your health, let people know because they don’t want their gifts to make you sick.
And if it’s a “troll” situation like mine, well, you have options. You can give it a try. I thought the slipper socks from my last entry were going to be another “troll,” but I tried them and they because a gem. Sometimes things do work out in unexpected ways. If you don’t want to give it a try, you can ask about exchanging it for something more appropriate, or you can regift it. I warn you, though, to note the name of the giver. Regifting to the person that gave you the present is rude, so be discrete and make sure you give it to somebody different.
Then there are those situations where the person gives you the same thing every year, and by golly they aren’t going to change no matter what. I’ve known a few people that give magazine subscriptions every year and they refuse to give anything else, even though many of their recipients have asked for something different every year. Likewise, I think we’ve all had the one relative that gives you a gift that you absolutely can’t use every year, and they won’t consider a change. These are usually situations where the giver has limited resources, and they probably can’t do much more. You have no choice but to accept these gifts. But take heart. You’ll probably appreciate those handmade towels or sweaters one day for happy memories, even if you wouldn’t dream of wearing them in public. And magazines can be shared, so take those issues to the “giveaway” table at work, or donate them to a local doctor’s or dentist’s office.
Incidentally, I ran across one of those pesky trolls when I took down the Christmas decorations a few weeks ago. I put it on the “giveaway” table at work. And surprisingly, somebody took it. Oh well, better them than me.
Man, you can't go anywhere without getting hit full on by Harry Potter mania. Excitement is high as we approach the release of the final movie in the series - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
You know what I say? Have fun with it. The journey with the boy wizard has been a fun one, and this is where it ends. We won't pass this way again. So let's enjoy the excitement and fun of the wizarding world - one last time.
I think that's what trends are all about: Discovering new things and having fun learning about them. Who knows how many people have been introduced to fantasy through Harry Potter? All along, my response to the critics that claim it's inappropriate for kids has been how? It has them reading. It helped them discover a genre they might not have discovered for themselves for a long time - if at all. It's opened a new world to countless people, and that world will enrich their own lives by letting them have a glimpse at things they may have never discovered.
I'll admit that I have done my share of complaining. I've griped that it seemed to rip off Tolkein, Lewis, and even Star Wars from time to time. But then again, there's nothing new under the sun. I once read that there are about 20 basic plots, and every story created (written or performed) is a variation on those plots. I believe it. The job of the artist is to create by mixing up reality in ways that are rare and, at times, perhaps forgotten. I think I have learned to see the merit of Harry Potter more fully over the past few years and, in my own journeys through writing and now publication, have learned to forgive some of what I came down too hard on.
Yes, Harry Potter is everywhere now, but that's ok. As I said, we won't pass this way again. So I don't mind meeting him every time I log on, or tune in. It is kind of nice. Yes, it's a bit sad that the journey is ending - but also exciting. After all, who knows what awaits to dazzle us next?