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Oh my Captain!

I’m working at a temp data entry job, where I scan and index files prepared by another team. When I started this project, the supervisor told me to go to her if I had any questions, or noticed anything unusual. I’ve been doing that, and I’ve been catching a fair few errors. After about a month of this, the supervisor decided to point a couple of the more common errors out to the prep team, so they can avoid them.

When this was pointed out to them, they seemed wounded, said they were shocked to find out there had been mistakes, and said I should bring questions to them first, so they can correct them.

I’ve been trying that for the past few days, but it’s been going… weirdly…  Here’s an example.

I have three files, one each for Alice, Bob, and Carol. They put all three under Bob’s name. When I point this out, the prep team said that all three shared Bob’s ID number. This is incorrect. I know they know it’s incorrect, because they use the correct ID numbers elsewhere in the file.
I’m inclined to go back to just asking my supervisor, but I’m worried that the prep team will take offense again. If they wanted to, they could make my job really difficult. I feel like they don’t take anything I catch seriously, possibly because I’m considerably younger, female, and a temp.

Thanks for looking this over,

Not Trying to Make Trouble

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Dear Captain & Crew,

I’m a grad student and I want to write thank-you cards to a couple of my undergrad professors whose classes and mentorship were really important to my academic and personal growth. There two profs are my former advisor/PI and another prof who basically inspired what I’m doing for my graduate work – similar topic coming from another field. The problem for me is that when I was graduating and for a while after (aka prime thank-you time) my anxiety was out of control, but as that has become more manageable my feelings of awkwardness about the amount of time that has passed are increasing. I feel like I would be taking advantage of their time and professionalism if I just reestablished contact because it might be useful to me.

I want to avoid turning these thank-yous into a FEELINGSDUMP. One of the things I appreciated was my advisor being supportive and calm about my (at the time undiagnosed) panic attacks and general graduating/life stress, but I don’t think that’s the kind of long-winded screed they really need, ya know? I also ideally would like these notes to maybe be the start of a friendly-professional correspondence. I think they’re cool people, and we’re facebook friends so though we don’t actually talk there I think they are open to being in that sort of contact with their graduated students.

Scripts? General tips on how I should approach the situation from a professor’s point of view?

Signed,
Grateful Also Awkward
PS I use she/her pronouns.

Dear Grateful:

Keep it short and sweet, but please don’t fear that saying “thank you” to a teacher is an imposition even if some time has gone by. Your teachers all did their work without ever knowing what would take root or how students would receive it, and getting the confirmation that something stuck with you is a gift that you’re giving them, not an imposition on their time. Script:

“Dear Professor, as you may know, I’ve been doing graduate work in (field of study), and I wanted to tell you how wonderfully your class set me up to succeed here, especially the way you covered (specific topic). Thank you again for your class and for the mentorship and advising you gave me. I hope all is well with you. Best wishes, Grateful.”

Since you’re casually in touch on social media, that will do the rest to keep the doors open.

P.S. Thanks for telling us what pronouns to use. It didn’t come into play here, but it’s so helpful to know.

—————

Since we’re in that time in the semester, I want to make a public service announcement to college students whose academic success is being derailed by stress and mental health issues:

Universities aren’t magical places where stigma about mental illness doesn’t exist, but you (yes, you! and you!) are not the first students having genuine difficulty that your professor has seen. Unfortunately, “not giving a fuck” and “having a major crisis” can look exactly the same to your professors, so if you can, communicate. They can often steer you toward advising and on-campus health services to help you pull through. With some notice, they can maybe set up alternate structures for you to complete your work. The sooner you reach out, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to get back on track in some way. The very last week of the semester, “But I need a good grade in this class I never come to or do work for to graduate/keep my scholarship” isn’t really gonna work.

If you’re behind on your work, and you’re overwhelmed about how you’re ever going to catch up, let me help you prioritize that shitpile:

  1. What’s the assignment that’s due next? Ignore the old stuff for now. Focus on the next thing and hand it in by the deadline.
  2. Hand in all future things by the deadline, i.e., show that you can respect deadlines and respect the professors’s time and get caught up.
  3. Once you’ve made a plan for future work, what’s the outstanding assignment that’s worth the most points toward your grade? Try negotiating an extension for that one thing.
  4. When asking for an extension, your profs don’t need all the details of why. Look at what the syllabus says about late work and/or extensions, and if you have to ask, just do it. “I am having some personal issues and I need an extra week to finish my assignment. Can I turn it in on x date? I understand that this might affect my grade.” Your profs don’t spend all their time thinking about you or your missing work. Tell them what they need to know, ask them for what you need, and do it with the least amount of friction for them.
  5. Show that you are aware of what you need to do and suggest a realistic plan for getting the additional work in. Asking a professor, “What assignments am I missing?” is kind of insulting (see also: “Did I miss anything in class today?“). If you haven’t been reading the syllabus or the class website, now’s the time to read it or fake that you have. Grading late work is a pain in the ass, so make it easy for busy people to help you.
  6.  Is the missing work from the very beginning of the semester? Maybe let that stuff go. You don’t want to do it and your prof probably doesn’t want to read/grade it.
  7. Attend all classes, even if you aren’t quite caught up. Students who shame-hide because they haven’t finished their work: We see you! Or, we don’t, because you are skipping a class you paid a lot of money for because you’re worried about what we’ll think of you for missing an assignment, but we’d like to see you! Come back! Show that you’re interested and committed to catching up.

I have had students fail a class or withdraw from a class because they were going through a really bad time and then come back at it a semester later and do beautifully. It makes me so happy when that happens. It’s not embarrassing, it’s awesome!

Comments closed as of 4/27.

Dear Captain Awkward, So, if I tell you that when I was in high school, a teacher of mine called off class for a session of “yoga in the dark where no one can see what the teacher is doing” that left me very upset, I probably don’t need to give you more details, right? And I see a therapist now (not just for that, but the therapist feels that part is important), but I am not serenely at peace with the past here, and I do really, really badly with yoga. I have problems with rage and tears just from being told to “focus on my breathing.” So I avoid going to yoga. (I also don’t do well with meditation, Alexander Technique, etc. — basically, being pressured to “relax” makes me panic.)

My problem is that many people, in both my personal and professional life, very strongly believe in the universal healing powers of yoga. They refuse to believe that I could find it anything other than relaxing and empowering. I try to explain that having someone dictate how I ought to move and breathe does not make me feel relaxed or empowered, but multiple staff retreats at multiple offices have left me in the superfun position of explaining that I really can’t do yoga, and being pushed about it until I cry, because they refuse to believe that anyone could have a good reason not to like yoga. I say I’ve had bad experiences, and they insist that this will be different, and I say, no, really kind of traumatic experiences, and they say, “But yoga helps traumatized people!” And there I’m back with the tears and rage. One year I tried to do it; I had to run out of the room and apparently the teacher said that some people aren’t brave enough to get in touch with their bodies. When my coworker told me that I think I literally bared my teeth like a dog and snarled. This does not make me look like a competent professional. And it makes me feel like shit. They’re my coworkers, my job has nothing to do with yoga, and I guess I don’t think I should have to bare my soul and expose my vulnerabilities because somebody else thinks their favorite form of exercise would make me a better worker/person.

I’ve just started a new job in a high-stress workplace. My boss is very excited about a yoga-focused health-and-centeredness retreat. I’m still in my probation period. How do I not look unstable, or like a bad team player? Please don’t tell me I just haven’t found the right yoga instructor yet. I hear that a lot. And, thank you.

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Dear Captain,

About two years ago, I was hired to work at an awesome but small non-profit. I spent my first year in a low-end administrative position that quickly became mundane. However, after taking on additional projects and consistently showing my skill and desire for more intensive work, I received a huge promotion to a development position. I now answer directly to the CEO, and things are going pretty well. I just brought a new donor on board, and everyone is singing my praises.

However, a huge mess of awkwardness has arisen.

The woman who held the position before me had years of experience in writing and development. She had a VERY good salary (from what I hear) and was close friends with the CEO. However, her performance was less than stellar. In an entire year in the position, she never brought a donor on board and failed to document most of her contacts. Because of this, the organization asked her to resign early last year. Since I took over eight months ago, I have been trying to fill in the informational gaps. In some cases, I’ve had to start from scratch.

Now, this woman had a list of potentials she was trying to develop, and my CEO (still hung up on how “experienced” she was, IMO) wants me to pursue them. However, I do not know (because of the utter lack of documentation) what the other woman’s relationship to these entities were, and some of them appear to be real long-shots. So now the CEO is asking me to CALL THE TERMINATED EMPLOYEE and ask! I’m so uncomfortable with this request, you have no idea. When she worked here, I was just a low-level associate. Now I’m supposed to tell her that not only have I taken over her old job, I want access to her contacts, too?! It seems insulting. I’m thinking about telling my boss that I just can’t do it. It’s not just an affront to her pride, but also to mine. What do you suggest?

Sincerely,

Too Appalled to Call

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Time for (mostly) monthly feature where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were questions.

1. “How to tell my parents I’m moving out.”

You have found the place, yes?

You have a way to pay for the place and a way to move your stuff to the place? If you are expecting resistance from your folks around the topic of moving out, having your financial and logistical house in order is a wonderful rebuttal.

Make your plan, and then tell them when the pieces of the plan are in place. “Mom/Dad, Mom/Mom, Dad/Dad, Mom/Dad/Moppa, I found a new place and I’m going to move there on x date. Thanks for putting me up, I really appreciate it.”

If these aren’t the sort of parents who will be happy about this news, don’t bother trying to sell them on the features of this or convince them that it’s a good idea or give reasons or get too far into the details. “I’ve got that handled, thanks for asking!” is a good non-answer for the intrusive.

2. “How to say that you want her but just can’t be together.”

What are you trying to communicate here, and what do you want to happen after you say this? If you can own the decision as a decision (and not throw your hands up to vague “circumstances”) you will put “her” in the best possible position to move on. “I really like you and care about you, but I’ve decided that we shouldn’t be together.” “I am so attracted to you, but I’m sorry, I know that I don’t want to be with you in that kind of relationship.”

3. “My cousin will not speak to me on the phone but will only text am I being avoided.”

Does your cousin text you back promptly, and initiate texting sometimes? Then it’s likely you are not being avoided, but phone conversations are being avoided. Does your cousin not really respond to communications? Then maybe they are avoiding you.

One way to find out/get what you want done: “Cousin, I know you prefer texts, but can we talk on the phone for a few minutes later today? I have some stuff to hash out and it will be quicker that way. Thanks.”

4. “What to say on a suicide hotline.”

“I’m having a rough time and some suicidal thoughts, can I talk to someone about that?” 

Those hotline operators have heard it all, my friend. You aren’t going to weird them out or somehow “do it wrong.” They are waiting for you to call and take a step toward feeling better.

5. “How to quit in a awkward workplace.”

Do it in writing. “Dear Boss, I am leaving my position as of (date). Best wishes,

Two weeks’ notice is usual in the USA. You don’t have to tell them where you are going or why, especially not in the resignation letter.

6. “My ex fiance made it very clear he doesn’t want to hear from me.”

Whatever brought about those circumstances clearly SUCKS, but I hope you’ll take him at his word and let it be a truly clean break for both of you.

7. “My ex wants to talk but I don’t.”

Tell them once: “I want to make this a clean break. Please stop contacting me.”

If you’ve already done so, good. Your next step in both cases is to not respond to any contact from them, no matter what form it takes. Set them to perma-ignore.

8. “What to say to an ex-boyfriend when he still emails you.”

Total silence is good. You can set up a filter so that these messages bypass your inbox completely if you like.

9. “How to deal with guy who says he doesn’t want a relationship with you but with another girl.”

Step 1: Believe his words.

Step 2: Ignore his existence.

Step 3: Go live your awesome life.

10. “What are the reasons for wife to be angry with me while we are in bed.”

This could be so many things. “Wife, I feel like you are angry at me, but I don’t know why. What’s the deal?

11. “My mom hates me and my boyfriend porn.” 

I’m sure it’s out there, because every kind of porn is out there. Seek and ye shall find!

12. “Don’t bother sending kisses to people who ignore someone when they have other things to do and people to see to.”

Solid call.

13. “A girl shows interest in public but ignores my fb msgs.”

She may never check her Facebook messages. Do you have another way to contact her?

What happens if you translate this as “A girl shows kindness/attention when we’re in public, but when I try to contact her more directly she ignores/rebuffs it”?

You’d probably stop sending her messages, is my guess, which is the correct path here. If she wants to message you, she can and she will.

14. “Movie set in New Orleans with African Americans.”

It’s a TV show and not a movie, but I’m partial to HBO’s Treme and the masterful performances by Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, and others. Try to keep not dancing while listening to thisTrouble The Water is a powerhouse documentary, told real time during Hurricane Katrina by survivors. Kasi Lemmon’s Eve’s Bayou is set in rural Louisiana and is a freaking masterpiece of acting and directing.

15. “Hot sexy drunk texts.”

“The temperature is very high in here, I am drunk, and you are sexy,” covers most of these bases.

16. “Shit boyfriend and an asshole brother in law.”

The Toast, one of my favorite websites, has many readings that will appeal to you in this time of personal misandry.

17. “My boyfriend said I can’t visit because he is hosting his cousin.”

Don’t…visit?

18. “Had dinner with friends and wanted to let them know we enjoyed their company.”

An email or a text or a handwritten note that says: “It was so nice to see you, let’s do this again soon!” would not go amiss.

19. “How do you get rid of your son’s girlfriend.”

CONTACT THE SPELLCASTER

WIRE $1000 US TO ME BELOVED

Or, realize that who your son dates is not your decision, so chill out and wait. If she’s really as bad as you think, he’ll wake up to it a lot sooner if he doesn’t have to cleave unto her to prove a point to you.

20. “My partner ignores me for days on end to my face. Is this emotional abuse.”

Yes.

21. “Behold the field in which I grow my fucks.”

BEHOLD!

An old timey-sampler that says "Behold the field in which I grow my fuck. Lay thine eyes upon it and see that it is barren."

A big guy touches a little guy who shrinks away and says "No Touchy!"

Captain Awkward,

I just found your blog an hour ago, and haven’t really found anything fitting my situation.

I have a creepy friend I already turned down in no uncertain terms when asked on a date. I don’t see him often, only every few weeks at work. But he touches me – every time, the whole time. Too-long hugs, rubbing my back, touching my arm, sitting next to me instead of across from me in the cafeteria, and the most uncomfortable of all – saying I love you every time I say something slightly witty or funny. When I used to go after work for food with him and others, he would always pay for my meal. First time I literally did not have enough money for a meal. Every time after he would sneak talk to waiters, or steal the bill from my hand. When I told him I did not like him paying for my food, movie ticket etc, that it made me feel very uncomfortable, he waved it off, saying he was raised this way (What?).

Yesterday he crossed some line in my head. I said goodbye, I need to clock in, and you should go home since you’re off. He followed me outside to the clock in area and just kept hanging out there even though I was technically working. I realized then, he isn’t going to get a clue, and I do not want him to follow me around, touch me, or pay for my food. Ever.

Unlike similar situations I saw you answer, I’m not making excuses for him, I don’t care to keep his friendship if he doesn’t stop acting like this, and while I do think he is just terrible at reading clues I also know he does not touch other girls – or guys – as often or … creepily … as he does to me. He seems very nice, we’ve worked for the same company over two years, but I wouldn’t say I know him well enough to keep making excuses. I Do Not like his touch, and WILL tell him to stop.

I need advise on HOW to tell him to stop. He didn’t catch the subtle clues of shifting away from him, never initiating any contact, and tensing up whenever touched. I don’t care one way or another about losing this “friendship” but I do care about how this future conversation will get around to the rest of my co-workers, and how THAT will interfere with doing my job and the social situation there.

I am sick of worrying that he will be working the same shift as me, and need help on how to say something without being my normal blunt-edging-into-mean-self.

Desperate for advice,

Stop Touching Me

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Oh, Captain, my Captain,

I’m a lawyer, working at a small-ish firm in the Midwest. As a bit of background, my last job was at a non-profit, where I believed in the work, and loved my co-workers, but it was a bad fit. My old boss shredded my self-esteem, and my leave-taking was not entirely voluntary. I was also hella depressed, and having constant panic attacks, and I was completely burned out. I feel very lucky to have found this job, where I’m able to help people, work decent hours, and make a good living, with folks who think I’m awesome.

So, on to the question. There’s been some drama at work among the support staff, and my boss restructured to help reduce friction, putting me in charge of a law clerk and an admin that I’ll call S. S is young and pretty. She’s also a hard worker and a lot of fun. We get along great, and as a team, we’re doing really well.

The problem is that my boss (who is the head of the firm, and so has no one in authority over him) has a Thing for S, and when S started hanging out with one of the other attorneys, he took it badly. I know this because he confronted S about it, asked if she was fucking the other attorney, and asked if she preferred him. That would have been bad enough, but a lot of the other staff people have been complaining about S’s breaks being too long, or her visiting this other attorney during working hours. The boss ignored the complaints for the most part, I think until he realized how much time S had been spending with the other attorney, and until he had a rather disastrous anniversary date with his wife. (I wish I didn’t know this, but holy inappropriate comments, Batman!)

At the end of last week, the boss calls me and S into his office, along with the other attorney, the office manager, and the staff person who had been complaining the most about S. He yelled at just about everybody except me (and really, nothing he said was out of bounds or inappropriate because it was all about being late to work or screwing around). And then he pulls out a machete. A real machete. And then he says that while we’re all very important to the firm, if he has to have this conversation again, not everybody is going to leave an employee, and then he brought the machete down on his desk, leaving a gouge in the wood. I still can’t quite believe it happened.

The next day, I expected him to at least acknowledge how nuts/over the top/whatever his behavior was, but instead he said, “I think machete cuts in desks will be a great way to enforce order and discipline!” I was speechless.

The thing is, I love the work. I’m good at it. I want to stick with it. While we could deal without my income, we want to adopt in the near future, which will be impossible without a second income. But I also have no idea what to do with a boss who thinks swinging a machete around is an appropriate response to ANYTHING in the workplace. I have no idea what to say to him since he is clearly not operating with Earth Logic. There’s no one else at work I can take my concerns to, because he’s in charge. For now, I’ve told my people to keep their heads down and their noses clean so that no one can complain. If the boss carries through with his promise to put me in charge, I’m hopeful that he’ll focus on the other side of the business and leave us to do our thing. And maybe once he pulls his head out of his ass and gets over his bruised ego, he’ll start seeing sense.

But is there a script for this? I know he respects me, and I’m pretty sure he has no idea that at least four of his best (female) employees are ready to walk. How do I even approach him? I’m not afraid for my own person, and I don’t view him as dangerous (machete-weilding notwithstanding), but DUDE. I got nothing. Honestly, ideally, I would stay there for at least a couple of years, and then investigate the possibility of moving to a different firm that practices the same kind of law once I’ve gotten more experience. I love this area of the law, and there’s no other firm in my area doing it right now, but moving might be a possibility in a few years.

Thoughts? Scripts? Anything?

Yours truly,

Stunned Speechless

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