6 Things No One Wants to Hear About Your Job
There is no job so interesting that you cannot tell a boring story about it. Here are some things that will help you bore the hell out of people when you talk about work.
Stupid Customer Stories
Are there interesting stories about stupid customers? Sure, in the same sense that there are some people that survive being unconscious under a frozen pond for 45 minutes. You probably don't shrug off every unconscious person pulled out of freezing water with a "He'll be fiiine," and you also shouldn't assume every stupid customer story is going to keep your listener awake.
Just because the other person never held the specific job of gas station cashier or Comcast rep or hamster salesman doesn't mean they haven't had really similar experiences to yours. Most of us have at one point or another worked in customer-facing jobs. I know sometimes it doesn't seem like it when you hear a lot of funny quotes from Mitt Romney or somebody in the news where they think milk costs $50 or don't know what "clocking in" means, but those people are called one-percenters for a reason.
Here's a few customer story types that sound a lot more interesting in your head than they will coming out of your mouth:
People who order something you don't have and are very insistent about it. This happens at every job. People try to order spaghetti from a McDonald's, Xboxes from an Apple store, Camrys from a Christian bookstore, or cats from a ... I don't know, auto parts wholesaler. This is probably more worthwhile as a group game where everyone quickly names the weirdest item a customer has tried to buy from them and the weirdest one wins, and less as a long monologue where everyone already knows the entire story except the item name.
"No, ma'am, I don't believe we have a 747."
People who ask about something it is your job to tell them about. Look up any collection of "dumb customer stories" and you will always find one guy "LOLing" at customers who called a computer help line because they didn't know how to use their computer, or who asked a store employee where to find something in the store. These things are obvious to the employee because the company specifically chose/trained employees to know these things, and they want employees trained in such things so that they can give the information to customers who do not know these things. I can't believe I had to write that sentence, but if people keep telling stories about "idiots" that didn't know the difference between 802.11g and 802.11n or dared ask them where to find the nonfiction section when everyone knows it's in the back right corner, then I guess it's got to be said.
People who are just mean. I don't know why, but a big whopping percentage of customer stories are just straightforward incidences of customers being jerks in the most common way possible. They demand special treatment, or berate the employee for something that isn't their fault, or are just really wrong and stubborn. There was no joke in the previous two sentences, just like there's no joke in these stories. It makes sense to tell these unfortunate but predictable stories to vent or get sympathy, but way too often, people seem to think that these stories are self-contained, entertaining jokes that will amaze and amuse listeners. That might be because they add the following ...
The Witty Things You Said to the Stupid Customers
I don't know why, but when people tell stories about stupid or angry customers, they always seem to think they are goddamn Winston Churchill with the witty repartee. Every story about an angry customer has to end with a clever little zinger that puts the jerk in his place, with an optional slow clap from the other employees.
I think this applies to any job, even ones that technically don't have "customers." I'm sure Neil Armstrong once told Buzz Aldrin, "I was just talking to Mission Control and they asked me about my current location and I was like, 'The MOON! DUH!'" And then Buzz Aldrin clapped slowly.
Unscientifically, I would have to say about 85 percent of zinger endings are made up, and if there was cheering and clapping, that number goes up to about 115 percent. It's understandable -- you don't really want to tell a story about a guy who cussed you out about refusing to sell him an actual apple at the Apple store, made fun of your acne, belittled you for having a dead-end career, and walked out, and then end it with you going back to the break room and crying silently for a few minutes. That's kind of a downer for you, the listener, everybody.
"And then I said to HIM ... I said ... yes, you're right, sir, I'm so sorry I screwed up your order,
please don't tell my manager, I really need this job."
On the other hand, it's not very realistic having him set you up perfectly to score on him with your rapier wit, then sputtering silently as his face turns beet red until he finally leaves the store shaking his fist and saying, "You win this round!" (But you haven't seen the last of him!) Look, it's sad when the 300 Spartans die at the end of the battle of Thermopylae (spoilers?), but the story would lose a lot of its punch if it ended with the Persians giving up and going home, saying, "Boy, you guys are too tough for us!"
That seems like a dilemma (the story is too blah without a fake ending and too hollow with one), but not really. If a story is no good without a forced, insincere happy ending, I'd consider this a clue that it is a story not really worth telling. If you just have to vent, by all means, vent honestly, to people who care about you enough to not demand entertainment from everything you say. It's probably not so healthy to cope with it by turning yourself into a fictional hero for acquaintances and the Internet or whoever.
Complaining About How Fun or Easy People Think Your Job Is
For some reason, people have a powerful temptation to tell other people their job is not a cakewalk (unless they are professional cakewalkers). Whether they're firemen or teachers or secretaries or flea trainers, people seem convinced that you think they sit around all day goofing off, and that the only thing they do in their job is whatever that profession does in movies.
For example, a receptionist might tell you, "I bet you think receptionists just sit around all day doing their nails and sass-talking people who want to see the boss. Believe it or not, I actually have to take calls, answer emails, handle difficult clients, manage several executives' calendars, sign for packages, and schedule lunch delivery for meetings."
In actuality, most people are not dumb enough to literally believe that whatever a profession does in the movies is limited to what happens on screen, and that any time movie receptionists are off screen, they're sitting around twiddling their thumbs. People are generally aware that sass-talking a belligerent visitor is probably the highlight of the receptionist's week (and this is why it appears in the movie). We all know that, in real life, receptionists spend most of their time on the phone dealing with highly emotional problems in their personal life and watching YouTube videos.
"Ugh ... hold on, Janelle. Some jerk is trying to hand me a paper or something."
Now that I've guaranteed that I will never get past a receptionist again, I have to say that there are a lot of other jobs that sound exciting on the surface (fireman, scientist, animator, actor) that actually involve a lot of tedium, busywork, politics, bureaucracy, and paperwork on a day-to-day basis. There are some people who think the job is all about the glamorous bits (racing to fires, discovering cures, drawing Nemo, performing sex scenes) and will be boggled when you tell them it can be boring and difficult at times. These people are called "children."
Adults generally have or have had jobs and know a number of people with different jobs. At some point through their own experiences or through watching people they know, they will have picked up on the fact that jobs that sounded like 100 percent fun when they were kids actually are more like a few fun moments interspersed with a lot of hard work and/or drudgery. Nobody thinks the animators at Pixar arrive in the morning, come up with a good joke for Buzz to say to Woody, and then spend the rest of the day racing around the studio on Razor scooters. Only the story department gets to do that.
Complaining About How Little You Make
Let's divide this into two categories. There are some professions that have a reputation for making a lot of money: doctors, lawyers, TV personalities, CEOs, cat embalmers, and the like. And there are professions that do not. Let's start with those.
Let's start with writers, in fact. More than once I've seen some bits of writing that purport to be "cold hard truths" about the writing profession, where one of these earth-shattering truths is that most writers do not make a lot of money. "We're not all J.K. Rowling, believe it or not," these people will say, shattering the nonexistent myth that any random jerkoff that keeps a blog or self-publishes an e-book must be rolling in gold bullion.
Nobody thinks that. If you have any connection to human experience -- your own, your friends', even the poor substitute for actual human experience that is books, TV, and movies -- you know it is full of parents telling their children they will be damned if they let them become a writer (or an artist). This is not because parents have an inherent hatred of the written word. This is because writers have a reputation for not making any money. When you tell people writing is not a cash fountain, you might as well tell them to wear a coat when they go out; they have heard it the same number of times, and from the same person.
"I don't care if all your friends are writers. What if all your friends jumped off a bridge? Because that's what writers end up doing."
To add to the list of professions that everybody knows damn well don't make a lot of money: teachers, non-A-list actors, artists, musicians, nurses, academic researchers, cooks, anyone who works at a call center, anyone who works in retail, game testers, and street corner sign spinners. I'm not going to say whether waitstaff are on that list because there is this huge fight about whether tips count that I will not touch with a 10-foot pole.
OK, now onto the doctors and executives and such. It may well be that you do not make as much as people think you make. But before you start complaining about your piddling salary, consider that you probably don't know how much your listener makes, since I guess in this culture we don't traditionally exchange salary amounts when we make introductions (it's usually after the eighth date, I think). Piddling is relative, and you probably want to take a glance at the median income for your area. (It's $51,000 for the U.S.) If you make more than this, odds are you make more than your listener (if you know nothing else about them), and it might be wise to consider this before complaining to them about how poor you are.
Or proceed at your own risk if you are prepared to be bludgeoned when, after you've convinced your listener you're "barely getting by," you complain about how you might have to cancel your yearly vacation to St. Maarten.
Assuming People Know More About Your Job Than They Do
At some point in a conversation when someone is trying to interest you in their job, they will try to bust a myth they think you buy into. "I bet you think dog walkers always walk dogs on nylon leashes, but the truth is we actually prefer leather ones!" I don't know if that's true. But I also don't care. I have spent very little time in my life thinking about what kind of leash a dog walker uses.
Working in animation, which is allegedly more interesting, I've come to realize that nobody knows or cares about most of the details of my job either. Someone who has dabbled in 3D software might suppose we use Maya (a super popular 3D animation program) and might be interested to hear that we actually use proprietary software developed in our own studio! The rest of you probably fell asleep before the end of that sentence.
Well, can I at least interest you in quaternion vs. Euler rotations ...? Anyone? OK ... I'll take that as a no.
Although I find these things extremely important and fascinating, nobody outside the industry has spent enough time thinking about it to have any preconception about what software I use, how we store our data, or how we name different pieces of a character. So they are not going to be surprised when I tell them it's actually not what they thought! Because they did not have any thoughts on it.
What people want to know is what movies I've worked on, and what it's like to meet the voice actors (I don't get to). Speaking of voice actors, this is the sort of "myth busting" that actually interests people: For some reason everyone thinks the sassy black hippo in the Madagascar movies was voiced by Queen Latifah when it was actually Jada Pinkett-Smith. I think this makes some kind of statement about society and race and weight or something, but I don't want to touch this one either.
Her name is Gloria and she is sassy.
So if you're tempted to tell people you actually don't just sell hats at your hat shop, but also many other kinds of headgear, or that hardly anyone in your field does open surgeries anymore because it's all about laparoscopy, or that you drive the excavator much more often than the bulldozer, don't.
Assuming People Know Less About Your Job Than They Do
What I find really bizarre is that people -- sometimes in the same conversation -- will veer all the way across the spectrum and assume you know as little about their job as a recently arrived space alien.
"You probably think all archaeologists go around fighting bad guys and discovering ancient magical artifacts because of Indiana Jones."
"Did you know doctors can't save every patient?"
"We can't rebuild him. We actually don't have the technology."
"When you teach, you find out some parents can be really overbearing and make ridiculous demands!"
"I don't want to blow your mind or anything, but waiters don't like it when people leave a mess on the table."
"I'm an engineer, so you probably think I drive a train, but I'm not actually that kind of engineer."
"Very few astronomers actually get to travel into space."
The equivalent for me would be, I don't know, telling you that animated characters aren't real, they're generated in a computer. For anyone who didn't know that and was hoping to meet Shrek someday, I'm really sorry.
When you make these statements to people, you're implying that they have a developmental disability or are some kind of non-human entity taking on human form in order to learn about our species. If that's not true, they will be very insulted, and if it is true, you're blowing their cover, so watch out. This sort of thing is probably the most likely to get you slapped (or vaporized), next to complaining about your salary.
I don't want to stop anyone from educating other people about their job, but I'm just saying stop and think a bit, and put yourself in the other person's shoes, the shoes of someone who probably also has a job, and has a brain, and doesn't live in a cave. Use the Golden Rule. How interested are you in hearing how little they make or how nobody knows how tough their job is? Hell, if you get that all sorted out and revise your repertoire, you might end up being able to tell the most interesting job stories at the party. That would be pretty cool, I think.
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