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.
Two years ago, I opened my Open Salon blog with an entry on why most New Year's Resolutions fail. In retrospect, I believe I took the wrong angle on the subject. I should have taken a more positive and helpful approach by addressing what makes them work, instead of how they fail. In this final entry in the "Surviving the Holidays With Your Sanity Intact" series, I'd like to discuss this issue. Don't worry - it won't be a lengthy dissertation. In fact, in two years of retrospect and reflection on that entry, I see that there's really one secret to making those resolutions stick.
In order for a New Year's Resolution to work, it has to be something that you believe in. Simple as that.
Ok, maybe it's not so simple. We live in a world full of voices that tell us what we should do, what we ought to be. You should diet and exercise, they say. You should get organized, they say. You should break a bad habit, they say. Good advice, except for one thing: Who are "they?" And what do "they" know about what's truly in your heart?
Perhaps this is harsh. Maybe "they" are concerned friends or family members. Maybe "they" are colleagues or neighbors or acquaintances. Maybe "they" mean nothing but the very best and "they" really and truly believe that these suggestions are for your own good. The problem is that "they" don't live your life every minute of every day. You do, and if you aren't happy with it then you'll only be able to force yourself to do something to make others happy for so long before you crack.
Don't get me wrong. It is helpful to be held accountable, but the fact of the matter is that people aren't going to be there every minute of every day to hold you up. Nobody is going to follow you around to make sure you get on the treadmill, or avoid the vending machine, or tidy up before you leave today. There's no substitute for self discipline and you're only going to have it if your resolution is something that is meaningful to you on a deep, personal level.
That's not to say that the common resolutions are wrong - just that you need to make sure you have a reason that is meaningful to you. Start the diet and/or exercise program to get in better health. Clean up to feed a personal need to get more organized and efficient in your life. Take that class in something that your passionate about. Write that novel because it's a story that you feel passionate about sharing with the world. Volunteer with that committee or group because it's a cause you believe in. You alone are the only one that knows what speaks to you, and I urge you to search within to find out what you truly long for in your life when making those New Year's Resolutions.
Thanks for joining me for another blog series! I hope this has been inspirational and helpful. 2012 promises to be another exciting year with my next novel, Anywhere But Here, scheduled for publication in 2012. I plan to take you through the journey to publication when it goes into pre-production in the coming weeks. I will also continue to work on publicity for my novels and will tackle another type of writing that I have long needed to improve in: Short stories. Stay tuned!
Happy New Year everybody!
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s almost here: Christmas, the most magical time of the year. Weeks of planning, coordination, and frantic planning are about to come to their purpose as that blessed date finally arrives.
As we come upon Christmas, I’d like to urge all of you to remember the reason for the season. It’s so easy to get caught up in full schedules, gift buying, parties, family, friends, food and fun that we forget WHY we’re celebrating. It isn’t about gifts, decorations, meals, or Santa. It’s about the most wonderful gift that humanity has been given: Christ, our King who brings our salvation.
We talk about family, friends and church. These are wonderful gifts, but remember that the core of why we celebrate is the personal victory that Christ gave us when he died on the cross and defeated Satan for once and for all. It’s our responsibility to claim that victory and the free Grace of God that is offered with it. Nobody can do it for us. This is a free gift offered to each and every one of us and we alone must claim it. This is a time to give thanks for it. Remember that we join together to give thanks to Christ for coming into this world. We give gifts to one another as symbols of the wonderful gift of Salvation that Christ has given to us. We celebrate because we know that we’re free from the devastating consequences of sin on our soul and know we have eternal life.
I know the days ahead are full, but please take some quiet time to reflect on the reason for all of the activity in the coming days. Otherwise, it becomes another item on the “to do” list. Christ deserves better than that.
It isn’t about putting on the “perfect holiday.” It’s about celebrating the “perfect gift” that we have, now and always, throughout all of eternity. Thanks be to God.
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.
It's T-minus 10 days until Christmas and counting. Are you ready?
I'm not either. Yes, I feel your pain.
As we enter peak holiday prep time, I'd like to offer some tips on making life easier during these hectic days. These are good tips all the time, and hopefully you can implement them now to find some relief from holiday stress.
1. Follow the instructions. Even if you think they're stupid. Even if you think you know a better way. Even if you think you're better than that. They're there for a reason, and following them will save everybody time and frustration - especially you.
2. Use the calendar function on your devices. Even the most basic cell phone has a calendar feature, so there's no excuse for missing appointments, functions or deadlines if your schedule is on a device that you have with you all the time.
3. Set priorities and organize your life by them. It's literally impossible to do everything, so you have to decide what's the most important. Take stock of your life and to-do list and organize your schedule in these remaining days according to what matters the most.
4. Be sure you get enough sleep. It's easy to skimp on sleep when your schedule is full and a few more minutes - or hours - would help, and that's dangerous. Getting enough sleep is the secret to staying healthy, energetic, and alert so you can accomplish more in the other 16 hours of the day.
5. Take a timeout this weekend. I don't care how long your "to do" list is - you need time for yourself before family descends on you for the blessed season of celebration. Don't go into the next two weeks tired, stressed out, and frazzled. Take at least a few hours to do something for yourself: Read a book, watch a movie, go out to a good dinner, or just sleep in Saturday morning. Trust me, it will give you the energy you need to cross the finish line.
And in closing, I urge you to remember the reason for the season. Christmas isn't about decorations, parties, and presents. It's about Christ and the give of our salvation. Sometimes the celebration overshadows the reason we're doing everything we're doing all of this. I'll have more on this as we get closer to Christmas.
Ok folks, there's not much time yet but we'll make it by the grace of God, like we do every year. Take care, and I hope these tips will help you preserve your sanity now, when you need it the most.
As we enter the frenzy of holiday shopping, I feel it’s necessary to address the ultimate gift giving debate that we face in trying to finish up that shopping list:
Gift cards – great gift idea or the ultimate cop out?
Opinions are widely divided on this issue. Personally, I love gift cards. I’m at the point in life where I have what I need, and my list of “wants” isn’t very long. Most of my needs are in the areas of replacing things that wear out or break (like clothes), and gift cards make this much easier. In fact, one of our favorite post-holiday traditions is taking a day after the family get togethers are over is taking advantage of great post-holiday sales with those gift cards.
My family agrees, and buying gift cards does make holiday shopping much easier. Ah, but herein lies the debate. The opposite end of this argument is that buying gift cards is too easy – that it’s not personal and shows no consideration for the recipient. I had a friend once that thought gift cards were not only a cop out, but insulting and rude as well, because “if you know someone well enough to buy them a gift, then you should know what they like and take time to select an appropriate present for them.”
I can see both ends of this debate. On the one hand, gift buying is tough when you buy gifts for the same people, year after year. After some time, you’ve given them everything you know to give, and finding unique gift ideas becomes impossible. I know that the last thing I need are more trinkets or nick-nacks to clutter up my home or work space and collect dust. Gift cards are a great way of acknowledging that you know what kinds of places they like, and giving them the gift of choosing a present that they want or need. Plus, it’s great if you have to ship gifts to people, because there are greeting cards with gift card slots, so you can send it to them with little (or no) additional postage.
On the other hand, there are some situations where giving gift cards is inappropriate. I’d never suggest giving it to a child that’s under about 10 years old, because they want to open presents and the concept of waiting even longer to get their gift is torture. Likewise, it’s also inappropriate for a person you’ve been in a romantic relationship with for less than two years. There are plenty of special, personal gifts you can give for these occasions. It’s also not practical for elderly people that have health issues that limit their mental function or mobility, as they simply can’t use them unless a caregiver takes them out or uses it on their behalf. The point of a gift is to give the recipient something they can use personally, and this point is moot if the person isn’t able to go out or use the Internet to cash in the card.
Then there are the people that just don’t like them. I guess they do have a point – gift giving is about considering the recipient. Perhaps they just don’t like going out much, or buying online. If that’s the case and you’re completely stumped on what to get them, well, these are the people they make the nick knacks for. Every store I’ve been so far has had gift racks of miscellaneous items and kits for use around the home. Charging stations and desk organizers seem to be very popular this year, as do flashlights, handkerchiefs, mini game sets, whistle key rings, make up sets, nail polish sets, lotions, holiday jewelry, and small cleaning kits. Some people appreciate these fun, whimsical items. I don’t. But somebody must because they’re on sale every year and seem to keep moving every holiday season.
In the end, I believe the safest course of action is to ask. It’s not insulting or rude, and I think it’s much easier to be honest than to guess and risk giving them a dud gift (which is something I’ll address in a future entry). After all, our time and energy are limited, and we are at a point where we simply don’t have time to play games or guess anymore.
And if all else fails and they really hate gift cards, suggest skipping the gift and going out for a meal or a movie together after the holidays are over. Because it really is the thought that counts – and in the end people care more about the thought behind the gift than the gift itself.