Innovation

While watching the movie “Up in the Air” earlier this week, I started thinking about what the movie said about the modern workplace.

1. Clash of Generations at Work.

The young, fresh-out-of-college employee is trying to streamline the company. She proposes a way to embrace technology, cut cost and improve efficiency.  The seasoned, respected employee (and protagonist) is skeptical. He likes the way business is currently done; he’s good at it, and he enjoys what he does. Which I think is something that not a lot of people can say about their jobs.

The dynamic between them is interesting. The young, inexperienced employee handles some situations poorly. Because she’s young and inexperienced. She’s also innovative and willing to embrace change. But big changes bring bigger risks of failure.

The experienced employee does his job well. He’s done this task 10,000 times, so he should be much better at it. His fear doesn’t seem to be failure – it’s change. If he doesn’t embrace the new way of doing things, will he be out of a job?

Personally, I think fax machines are obsolete. Why fax something when you can scan and email it in less time, while using less paper? But I think I’ll have to use the fax as long as I’m at my company. Partly because the senior staff members are in a different generation. They’re accomplished and experienced. They’re the decision makers, and they are the same age as my parents. And we are all aware of this age gap.

As one of the youngest people in the office, I question how my ideas sound to an older veteran employee. Will they think an idea that challenges the standard is just a stupid suggestion from some kid who doesn’t know how things are done?

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Tom Brokaw thinks of Twitter as junior high students passing notes. And I respect Brokaw a lot, not only because he’s another South Dakotan who found success on a coast, but because he’s trusted and built a successful career in journalism. But social media is an integral part of marketing, especially to the golden 18-24 age range.

Brokaw is very respected, but every 20-something I know is on Facebook, Twitter, or both. I don’t know my boyfriend’s cell phone number, or the numbers of any of my roommates, because the numbers are all saved on my iPhone. And the only reason we know each other’s email addresses are from our Facebook profiles.

2. Challenging Generation Y’s Expectations

23-year-old Natalie’s goals are somewhat traditional, but career driven. Her character went from Cornell to Omaha, passing up a job in San Francisco to follow a college boyfriend. (I’ve been to both cities and I would have chosen San Francisco.) She wants early career success, but she also thought she’d be engaged or married by 23. And when the romance fails, she has a hard time when things stop going according to plan.

Perhaps the “Quarter-Life Crisis” is the process that 20-somethings go through when their expectations are challenged, while simultaneously adjusting to the working world. I don’t know if I believe in the “Quarter-Life Crisis,” but I can relate to having your expectations challenged, and going through big life changes in a short span of time. Like last fall, when a long-term relationship ended but I started to really feel at home in Seattle. And then there’s my life at work… If the crisis exists, I think it spans most of your mid-twenties.

3. Dealing with Unexpected Changes

I used to say “That was never the plan.” My plan was this, and that was never an option or a footnote. But you can’t plan everything. And if you try, you better learn how to let go and improvise. I don’t talk much about “the plan” lately. Because at this point, I don’t really have one. I have aspirations, but I don’t always know how to get there from here.

The plan, for me, started from a bullet point on a timeline. And once that task was achieved, my personal life changed significantly, and I threw out the rest of what I thought I wanted in my personal life. No more browsing Craigslist for apartments we’d share. No more expensive plane tickets. No more talk of hypothetical ages to get a dog or get married.

Instead of planning, I just started living, which is much more fun than making plans and waiting. And so far, so good.

The future is brighter in the sun

Saturday was the first really warm, sunny day in a long time. I spent the afternoon at Golden Gardens Beach, soaking up some much-needed Vitamin D. Being at the beach is one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. I flipped through a magazine and didn’t think about work or stress or money. It was fantastic. And I hope I get to do the same thing next weekend.

Tonight, while walking around Ballard and Fremont, I realized that a lot has improved in the last two years. In June 2008 my salary was about $12,000 less and I lived in a town where Wal-Mart was one of two grocery stores. (And I’d been boycotting the corporation since about 2005.) I was preparing to quit my job, pack all my belongings in my Honda Civic and move halfway across the country. I had a moment of “Oh my god, what am I doing?” somewhere in Montana or Idaho. But I’m so glad that I took the risk. If I hadn’t, my life would be completely different.

Thinking about that time in my life was a good reminder that the things I do every day aren’t necessarily the things I’ll do two months from now, or even in two weeks. This too, shall pass. A friend who hates her retail job just gave her two-week notice and another friend’s sister had a baby about two weeks ago.

Things change, sometimes faster than I think they will. I just hope the sunny weather continues.

Monday is the longest day

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am in life, and where I thought I would be at this age. Geographically, I’m exactly where I want to be. My career could use some improvement.

I look at my current job as a good stepping stone. It has taught me a lot about what I want, and what I don’t want in an office environment. After a year and a half in my current job, I know I want a different role at a company with a little more structure.

When I worked at a newspaper in the Midwest and earned less than $24,000 a year, I was constantly stressed about money. Reading “The Bonfire of the Vanities” probably didn’t help, but I could barely afford rent, groceries, student loans and a credit card payment. Now I’m not as stressed financially, but like a lot of Americans, I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. I have a savings account and I’m making progress on the mountain of student loan debt. But for a lot of people my age, work is about more than the paycheck.

On weekdays we spend more waking hours at work than with our families, roommates, friends or significant others. Fundamentally I think it’s ridiculous to spend 8 hours a day doing something you don’t like. Why stay at a job if you’re not satisfied? Because it pays reasonably well or it’s comfortable or quitting is not a financially viable option. But it’s not fulfilling and I think happiness should factor into the equation somewhere.

Once I got complacent in my job, I started buying things (mostly clothes) as a way to validate going to work every day. After wanting one for months, I got an iPhone last fall. And boots from Nordstrom. I thought maybe if I had work clothes I liked, the idea of going to the office might be less dreadful. But the thrill of new clothes wears off after a week or two.

So I searched for ways to improve my skills and updated my resume. I wonder about going through a temp agency, because two friends had positive experiences as temps. I’m leery about the inconsistent paycheck. I think it comes from being raised by a single mother in a working poor household. And in the past year I started to depend on a comfortable paycheck; losing that and my health benefits is scary, because I still feel like I could be two weeks away from financial ruin.

I remember when my mom and I were on WIC and dinner was Mac and Cheese with tuna, or refried bean burritos. I know how to eat relatively cheap because we did when I was a little kid. But I have friends who grew up eating sandwiches made of Miracle Whip and white bread. My mom and I were never that poor; and I’m fairly certain I’ll never eat a Miracle Whip sandwich.

But that doesn’t make Monday any less dreadful.

Uncle Dad?

Today over lunch with my dad, I thought about family. The fact that we were sharing a meal was a huge improvement, considering I used to see him once a year… or less. Meeting him for lunch on a Saturday was out of the question 2 years ago, for two reasons: I lived roughly 1,500 miles away and we spoke on the phone maybe twice a year.

He said he was growing impatient, waiting for our food in Ballard. I said “So that’s where I get it from,” with a smile. He’s always on time, but not very patient. I’m always running about 5 minutes late, and at times not very patient. (Waiting for the bus, waiting for friends to show up, waiting for 5 o’clock to finally arrive when I’m at work)

The older I get, the more I think I’m just like my parents in some ways. And that’s not necessarily (always) a bad thing. The sayings and freckles I inherited from my mom, the stubbornness I got from my dad’s side of the family.

My dad and I have an interesting interaction. I’d say we’re somewhere between family members and acquaintances. After my grandmother died in 2008, I realized that if I wanted a better relationship with my dad, I was just as responsible as he was for making an effort.

Sure, he would never be the stereotypical father figure, or the first person I call with good news, but he’s my dad. And I only have one. When I need something, he’s generally eager to help (I was shocked when he offered to help me move. This is the same man who, once I moved to Seattle, wouldn’t give me a ride to the airport. He’d always been happy to pick me up at Sea-Tac when I was visiting from the Midwest.)

I didn’t move to Seattle to be closer to him. It was an added bonus, although at times I contemplated if I really wanted to live that close to the parent that had been largely absent during my childhood.

Father’s Day is coming up. Just like in years past, I’ll get two cards: one for my dad, and one for my Uncle Dale, who is my father figure.

Dale was the one who babysat when I was a crying toddler, and taught me how to ride a bike. He built me a Barbie house and went to every school play and graduation. He met most of the boyfriends, and was sufficiently intimidating. And if I got married in a traditional ceremony, I’d want him to walk me down the aisle.

They say there’s the family you’re born into, and the family you choose. As far as the family I was born into… I’m pretty lucky, really.