Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

May 4, 2006

Other Obligations

When Miss Bender was an eager young professional, there was an often-told (and doubtless apocryphal) story told of the young woman who started a new job at a new campus with a wedding ring on her finger and pictures of her husband and young children on her desk.

But the facts eventually revealed themselves: the family was invented, and she was not married. But she wanted to set a tone in this new job that she had other obligations to go home to. For years, as the unmarried childless member of the staff, she had been expected to stay late, come early, work holidays, and take less vacation.

She and her story were invented, and also 100% true, as all of us living that story knew.

I always liked the idea, even long after I had left the kind of field (even position) that required that kind of dedication. My next move was to an hourly position, where I was too expensive to stay after hours. When I returned to salary, I adopted the unapologetic phrase, “obligations outside work.”

Here’s how it works:

Dear Boss,
Thanks for sending the information about the on-site training class to be held next month. I look forward to this opportunity.
You mentioned that this training lasts all day and goes into the evening.
Can you advise what hours we should commit? I need to reschedule my other obligations, depending on what time we expect to begin and end each session.
I understand the class is Top Priority that week, but adjustments will have to be made.

You see I still work nights and evenings when I have to. Meeting a deadline is still of greater importance to me than making a point on a time clock (I never said I was cured).

But this sets that legendary career gal’s tone that the Company has competition for my attention, with the added emphasis that the Company doesn’t get to decide whether it is more or less important than what they want me to be thinking about. Because I never explain what the obligations are.

Then this happened – subconsciously perhaps, but quite by accident.

I was in a second interview, and at this point in the conversation had already been offered the job. So I cut to the bottom of my list of questions and began asking the practical things about working from home, and doctor’s appointments, and other flexibilities of salary life (which one does miss when one doesn’t get paid for not working).

I got to the bullet point about my volunteer work. I volunteer once a week at a site about 20 miles from where I would be working, so there is always a sticky point where I have to flex-time myself into a schedule that accommodates that.

I meant to say "I have a volunteer job once a week that requires me to leave an hour early that day. Usually I come in an hour earlier that day, if that will work for you. I can choose any day of the week we like, but then I have to stay with that day." In my nervousness though, I didn’t say “volunteer job.” I said “community service.”

Read that paragraph again.

It hung there in the air, and I heard it, and I thought… well, let’s just leave it like that.

Community service. Why not just say…Standing appointment. Session. Meth dosage. Shock treatment.

So before this guy who had just offered me a job had time to think too hard about what I just said, I added “Am I required to travel in this job? Because I can’t.”

I’ve been waiting ever since for this rumor to come back around to me, but so far it hasn’t. I do show some occasional leg around the office, so he knows there’s no ankle bracelet. Maybe he’s forgotten it already.

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