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Hi Captain Awkward and Army,

I am currently teaching English at a public school in South Korea. I also identify as culturally Jewish, religiously agnostic/humanist/spiritual/existentialist/questioning/whothehellknows and believe that people can and should believe in whatever they want or have to believe in, whatever makes them comfortable and happy, as long as that belief doesn’t negatively impact others, so live and let live, to each their own, etc etc etc. Now, for many Koreans, I have been told, I am their “first Jew.” So there are a lot of questions. And, for personal reasons, I keep “kosher style” – no pig products, no milk/meat mixes in the same meal, no shellfish. This is because it makes me feel connected to my family, history, and ancestors, not because I am afraid of being smited or smoten. I have always eaten this way, and am not looking to change. So, I have asked the staff to please let me know if the school lunch for each day contains any pig (just to keep it simple – I can sort out the rest of this stuff on my own), and when they ask why, I simplified by saying it was for religious reasons. Despite the language barrier, this worked just fine at my old school (…just had a flashback to The Magic School Bus there, sorry), and led to some nice conversations about Judaism, and sharing of religious customs and ideas.

It’s gone a bit differently at my new school. Most teachers are Christian, and (at least) one of them is deeply religious. I have also discovered that the English teacher before me was a religious Christian too, so I think there was some bonding between them on that subject. Last week, this teacher gave me a beautiful calligraphy painting he had made from a quote from the bible. At first, I thought he was just being friendly and welcoming (I have had an amazing time here because of how open and generous colleagues and students have been), but during the last few days, he has also taken to quoting scriptures at me in between classes, and giving me his bible to read, and asking questions about how Christianity and Judaism compare.

So I have a few questions.
1. Is he just being friendly, or is this a divine mission to convert me?
2. If it’s the latter, how can I politely put a stop to it without being rude, especially given the cultural and language barriers? (There are also a lot of random people in my city who approach me on the street to try to get me to convert to Christianity or Mormonism, so a handy script for this surprisingly common situation would be amazing…)
3. What can I do when he asks about how the religions compare? I am not particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of orthodox Judaism, and am certainly ignorant about many details of Christianity, so I have no clue what to say. Which he doesn’t understand, because to his mind, if I’m religious enough to adjust my diet accordingly, how on earth do I not have the Torah memorized?

I tend to be completely disorganized in my thoughts, so I hope this is clear enough. Thank you for your time, patience, and amazing work you do. This is one of my favourite places to hang out on the web, and I can’t imagine how busy you are, so I understand if you can’t answer, but I do want to nip this in the bud, in case it starts getting out of hand, so any help would be hugely appreciated.

Signed,
Emphasis on the -ish.

P.S. (An email immediately following)

Update: I can get rid of the “think”! Work ended about an hour and a half ago, and on my way out of the office, I was given a lovely watercolour with this written on it:

“25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

…and then endured a 15-20 minute conversation about how he became Christian, how he was saved, and how he has watched many youtube videos of Jews who have realised that Christ is the saviour and Easter is coming and oh my god, how am I going to deal with this for another 6 months?

I do not want to insult or belittle this man’s religion, but I have to work with him for the next 6 months, and I have come to my religious affiliation after years of questioning and thinking and raging and being depressed and more than I want to go into here. I am not going to change. So how how how can I put a stop to these conversion conversations without making every future interaction awkward? Please help!

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a journalist and also like to write short fiction in my free time. I feel weird saying this but I guess it helps with explaining the problem: I’ve gotten pretty good (part of the job) and I’ve done well in contests and such in the past, so I think it’s safe to say I’m becoming a good writer. I love getting critiques because they’re super helpful if given by a knowledgeable person.

Sometimes, however, someone very well meaning but who doesn’t have much experience writing will give me a critique that I know isn’t very good, but I know they meant well– the most recent time this is happening being with my boyfriend.

A couple weeks ago, he asked me if I would like him to critique a story I was working on. I didn’t think it through too much and said I’d love that, but the critique he gave back was really unhelpful and nonsensical at some parts. I love him dearly and he’s a great guy but I know he’s not the best at giving writing critiques. He continues to ask if I need help/want him to critique again. It’s super nice of him! But I know it’s not helpful at all. …but I don’t want to hurt his feelings by saying so.

This has happened with other people in the past as well. My question: how do I gracefully accept a bad critique someone’s given (bad not out of malevolence) and, if they ask, explain why I didn’t change what they said I should change? This is most striking with the boyfriend situation, since I see him all the time and since he reads my writing, he would know that I didn’t listen to his advice. I really don’t want him to feel bad for taking his time out to do something so nice either.

Help?

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Once a month I try to answer the things that people typed into search engines to find my blog as if they are questions. It’s an exercise in mixed results.

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The Goat Lady, who sorts my inbox, kindly created a tag called “low intensity” for questions such as these.

Dear Captain,

I am in a fairly recent relationship with a wonderful man I’ve been infatuated with for years (…on and off – we weren’t Firthing!). When we first started dating, I was nervous about a whole host of potential pitfalls (long distance, exes, contracting Oneitis) that delightfully turned out to be illusory, and at this point, we’re comfortable with each other, communicate regularly and openly, and have a lot of fun together.

So, my question is this:

While we’ve been friends for years, this isn’t a BEST Friends Fall in Love Story, and I’m sometimes surprised by how different it is to talk with him than with most of my close friends. Other than the boyfriend, the kinds of friends I stay up all night with are huge readers and unabashed lovers of pop culture, and we love nothing more than to conduct elaborate feminist critiques of Game of Thrones or debate the literary merits of fanfiction. I don’t expect (or want!) my boyfriend and I to like all the same things, and I know we’re still in the process of figuring out what we like to talk about when the “how was your day”s are done. And to be fair, he’s offered some pretty interesting feminist critique of Game of Thrones himself, but such discussions don’t seem to fascinate him in the way that I’m used to, with each of us tumbling out thoughts faster than we can speak and getting caught up in the joy of endless critical analysis. So even when we DO like the same things, I don’t know that we like to talk about them in the same way.

Since there’s the whole “I’ve been infatuated with him for years” thing going on, I can’t tell if this is something we’ll probably get past as we recognize not just the WHATs but the WAYs we like to talk about things, or if it’s a bigger problem of mismatched perspectives and ways of engaging that I’m choosing to ignore because LOVE.

How important is a similar conversational dynamic to happy, healthy relationships? I am currently very happy and in love, and I love that we have comfortable silences as well as witty repartee, but I’m constantly taken aback when conversations I expect to last ages seem over quite suddenly and would love to hear your thoughts on the role this plays in life/love/etc.

Thank you,
Not Awkward, Still Silence

Dear Not Awkward,

I don’t know what to tell you. Some possible explanations for what you are experiencing:

1) Your Jerkbrain, unused to contentment, is looking for something to worry about and has decided that this is it.

2) The years-long fantasy of this dude was better/more interesting than the reality of life with this dude, who is kind of boring when you get right down to it.

3) In long-distance relationships you can’t really coast on proximity, so the quality/quantity of conversation is looming larger as a factor as you try to find an equilibrium.

Since things are good, why not keep enjoying yourself and let time sort it out?

Hi, Captain!

Not a huge crisis, but I wonder about your perspective on an etiquette issue.

I have a lovely set of in-laws who are chronically, perpetually, and often extremely late. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, as I see arriving promptly to be a matter of respect, and I function exponentially better when my life is carefully scheduled. This is annoying enough when they are late on me. But my question is when we have a plan as a group and there is a danger of them making me late.

We have a family event coming up soon, where my husband and I will be staying with them for a period and attending a series of events in their company. I dread the idea of arriving continually ten minutes, thirty minutes, an hour late to the people who are expecting us, and to events I am looking forward to. I worry that being too insistent on timetables and getting after them too much to keep moving will make them think I’m a nag, or too controlling. Do you think it would be okay if, when the appointed time to leave has past, I cheerfully tell them that Husband and I are heading out and will meet them there when they arrive? Or do you have a better idea to keep to a respectable time table without coming off as rude or inflexible?

Thanks!

- Early bird

Dear Early Bird,

You nailed it when you suggested that you and your husband should make your own way to these events. Treat that like it’s Plan A, not a sacrifice you are making because of their lateness. Only mention your plans when you have your coats on, your keys in your hand, and are heading out the door – you’re informing them of the plan, not discussing or negotiating it. If you need some handy excuses, try: “We want to get there early/make a stop on the way/we might want to stay longer/leave sooner than you/we’d just rather take separate cars, thanks” and keep your tone friendly and light as you glide out the door.

Everyone in their extended family knows exactly how they are, you know how they are, your husband knows how they are, and I’m pretty sure they know how they are. They are of an age to have raised an adult child and are not suddenly going to change their habits. This is one of those times where you have the chance to just do what you need to do with the least amount of friction possible, so take the easy way!

Moderation Note: Thread closed. Turns out that my budget of fucks for reading contentious, self-righteous discussions about lateness and rudeness = zero fucks. 

Dear Captain,

I’m a recent college graduate and was interviewed yesterday on national TV about the field I’ve started working in. The other people on the panel were way more experienced than I, and some of them are are moderately famous. The program wanted a young voice/perspective, and I was so honored to be asked to do the kind of TV appearance a more senior colleague would normally do. I was also a little terrified and worked really hard to prepare.

The interview went great, and I left the studio walking on air. I felt I came across as confident and informed and that I had represented my employer, my field, and my generation (corny as it sounds) extremely well. I’ve never been so proud.

Then the interview aired and I stared horrified at my screen as my eyes narrowed in on the noticeable sweat marks under my arms. I can’t help but feel that what should have been such a professional joy is ruined by… armpit sweat. I feel so stupid for wearing a color that really showed it. Rookie wardrobe mistake. Rookie, sweat-inducing nerves.

The interview aired at a time most people I know were at work, but it can be streamed online starting today. Now I have a long list of proud friends, family, and former professors/mentors who are expecting a link to the online clip. My grad school program wants to share it on their social media account. I’m so embarrassed at the idea of all these people seeing it. I didn’t tell my parents I would be interviewed, because I wanted to surprise them with a link to the clip in clever email (note to self: not everything has to be clever). Now I’m just dreading my mother’s comments about what a shame it is I didn’t wear a darker color. Surely I’m not the first person this has happened to, but I also can’t recall having ever seen armpit sweat on TV, so part of me is also convinced that this was a uniquely stupid thing to let happen.

I’m also beating myself up for being so obsessed with my appearance and not able to get past it to be proud of my ideas and composure. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? How can I convince myself that my professional awesomeness trumps my sweatiness? How can I get past the feeling that the interview is ruined or somehow embarrassing and send it to friends and with pride?

Smart and Sweaty

Dear Smart & Sweaty,

The interview is done, and the clip is out on the internet now, and it can’t be undone or taken back. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t make reassuring “it’s not that bad!” noises your way, but I suggest that you show it to a trusted friend or mentor without mentioning the stains and see what they say. We all search our own appearances for flaws in a way that most other people do not.

I think you should share it and encourage others to share it without commenting on the stains at all and focus only on the content of the work. If anyone brings up the stains, a) that’s a pretty weird, rude thing for them to do, and b) I think you will feel much better if you find a way to play it off if it happens. “Wow, thanks for noticing! I was worried no one had.” “Would you call it a stain, or more of a river?” “Next time I’m going to wear that old bridesmaid’s dress, so that the stains really pop against the seafoam organza!’ “Yeah, thanks for pointing that out, Mom.” 

You have nothing to apologize for. You didn’t know it would happen. Your words were still your words. TV lights are hot. Sweat happens, you are a human being with glands. People who go on camera for a living have teams of paid professionals helping them look perfect. I feel gross for linking to this listicle on Celebrity Sweat Incidents especially since the tone is “they should take better care of this issue,” but I want you to have some visual aids that show that even people with tons of camera experience and teams of staff devoted to how they look are human and have glands. I also found this media training PDF for how to prepare yourself for a TV appearance from the University of New Haven that has, literally 100 separate tips for how to look and behave during a TV interview. I don’t want to panic you further by making you memorize 100 new things you should have done, but the takeaway is: Being comfortable on camera is complex and there is a learning curve to doing it.

Please stop beating yourself up! I suggest that you do some more TV appearances as soon as humanly possible. The more you appear on camera, the better you will get at it, the more variety of clips there will be, and the more you will become recognized as an authority who can handle themselves on camera. Please do not let this one quirk of biology shame you out of the excellent career you just beginning.

Dear Captain Awkward,

So yes, this is a happy problem. You’ve written well on work matters in the past, so I’m hoping you can help with this.

I have spent a few years in a frustrating job/environment, but started an excellent new job about three months ago. I am now a senior manager, with only two people above me in my specialism – the Exec Director, and the Deputy Director who is my line manager.

The job has been full on from the start, but I’m really enjoying the new opportunities and the trust, and as far as I can tell I’ve done well so far.

However, I just found something out which has thrown me slightly.

I thought I was one of four equal senior managers, with the others having more time in post. But this turns out not to be the case. Both of the Directors have told me that I am third in command, and that they appointed me with the intention of grooming me for the Deputy Director job in a few years. I can have (nearly) any training I want.

Woohoo, yes? And part of me really wants it, but part of me is petrified with the fear of failure. I am a nerdy/dorky/socially awkward woman – (still with substantial privilege, cis and white, and I read as upper middle class despite having grown up very poor). I have worked hard on the social awkwardness but it is still A Thing, and I have low confidence in my ability to be socially smooth. And the previous frustrating job has knocked my work confidence.

Social smoothness, and leadership skills, negotiation and influencing, and change management and all that stuff, are more and more important in the senior jobs. That’s what I need to learn in the next few years.

But how? I can do the technical part of my job, and standard line management, but….?

I am pleased they see potential in me, but I don’t see it myself. How do I avoid holding myself back?

How do I learn something so nebulous? How do I know if I’m getting better at them? How do I learn to get over my awkwardness and my assumptions that I am crap at these things? How do I develop a model of myself as a (nerdy, female) leader?

I don’t even have the tools to start to learn, or know what to look for in myself.

Please help!

Signed,
Not A Leader

Dear Not A Leader,

You’re familiar with Impostor Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger Effect? Good.

Your mentors have offered you training, which is wonderful, because it demonstrates that:

1) They don’t expect you to already be an expert in leadership/communications/management, etc.

2) They recognize that these are important skills unto themselves in addition to the technical competencies you possess.

3) They are building in time and a budget for you to level up these skills so that you will be ready when the time comes.

In other good news, there is training out there to be had. Since I don’t know exactly where you are, I did a Google search on “professional communications management training” to give you an idea of what kinds of things might be available.

You could study online (though I think you might find this very basic).

Harvard University has a ton of continuing education-type courses and seminars in the very subjects you want to learn, with titles like “Advanced Executive Communication Skills,” “Communicating With Influence: The Art of Persuasion,” “Cultural Competence for the Global Workplace,” etc. What’s the fanciest pantsiest business school closest to you, and do they offer such things? There’s no reason not to make this both a learning and a professional networking experience and get something shiny for your resume. There are tons of non-university affiliated training organizations that do this sort of thing, too, at every intensity and budget level. In addition, you could ask your mentors if they’ve ever taken courses that they think were particularly helpful in developing their management skills.

Conclusion: You’ve got this and you’re going to do great. This also seems like a good idea to watch & read a lot of epic sci-fi and fantasy stories where humble people who are convinced that they are not leaders become leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JenniferP + Cat + Tweedy Hat

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Cat Furniture.”

A nice person emailed me to wish me a happy new year and also to ask: “What kind of self-care stuff are you doing these days, if you don’t mind me asking?

I don’t mind. Probably the biggest thing I’ve been doing is updating my professional CV, working on my professional portfolio and reel, and applying for some fellowships, conferences, and job opportunities in my field. I want a tenure-track job in teaching screenwriting and film/video production. As part of a local grant program, I’m also putting together a 12-week documentary course for high school students who have dropped out and returned to school, and will be piloting that this semester. I’ve also been compiling a lot of resources for my courses: clips, how-to guides, curated lists of tutorials, etc. Good for my students, good for my teaching portfolio. I guess that’s more “work care” than “self care” but I’d like to get paid more and have more stability and institutional support to do what I do, so updating and fancying-up the materials is in order.

The other big project/change is getting in a pool or on a treadmill regularly. I read Hanne Blank’s book about exercise in November/December, I joined the YMCA with my boyfriend a couple of weeks back, and together we’ve been going 4-5 times a week. It’s been weird – my brain can remember being an athlete and knowing how to do certain things once upon a time, but my sedentary, recovering-from-a-knee-injury body has been very much “ummmm…what?” about the whole thing until just this week when it’s been more like “Okay, I guess this is going to be a thing now (sigh).” Fingers crossed that the whole “Yaaaay! Exercise!” thing kicks in before March.

Over Christmas I marathoned all of Twin Peaks. I’m also watching movies. Recently:

  • Wild – Liked it very much, loved every minute with Laura Dern.
  • Ida – It was amazing. Heavy subject matter. Amazing.
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – If you like The Toast’s Misandrist Lullabies or want a Male Tears mug, this is the Iranian noir vampire western for you.
  • Dear White People – loved it. I thought it was so clever, funny, smart, and loving/forgiving of its characters while also being a reference-feast for film nerds.
  • Calvary – beautifully made and thoughtful.

Soon I will see: The Imitation Game, Selma, Two Days, One Night, Goodbye to Language, Big Eyes, Almost There 

Also I’ve been watching a ton of Werner Herzog, Les Blank, and Albert Maysles films on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon in preparation for some documentary courses I’m teaching. I’m especially interested in films like Little Dieter Needs to Fly vs. Rescue Dawn, Grey Gardens vs. Grey Gardens – films where a documentary was adapted into a fiction piece.

Other recent/winter/holiday projects:

  • Reading for pleasure
  • Seeing friends
  • Dealing with some mental health stuff (like, actually dealing with it, not just enduring it)
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Writing longhand in a journal every morning and making lists and then checking things off lists and sticking sparkly star stickers to the checked-off items
  • Planning a wedding
  • Pulling out all the art I need framed/hung up and getting it on the walls, among other habitat unfucking measures.
  • Culling the wardrobe of ill-fitting pants (not a metaphor), stained shirts, hole-y underwear, etc.
  • Misc. writing projects for the page & the screen.

What self-care kinds of things or new adventures do y’all have going on?

 

Hey Captain and Crew,

I’ve got… well, let’s say I’ve got some guilt on how I handled a situation, and I could really use an objective perspective. I’m a master of the JerkBrain Guilt-stravaganza, and I can’t tell if I should tell my brain to shut up or if it’s on point.

I’ve been working at a job I dislike for a long time (almost 10 years). It was relatively steady work and in the economy no one else seemed to want me. This past spring I took additional education, in the hopes of that making me more viable. Since July I’ve been actively (read desperately) hunting for a new job. Yesterday I was contacted by a headhunter I’ve been working with. She had a “possible” with the catch of having to start immediately.

I’d gotten nothing but rejections, and things have been so bad here at the office I was considering just leaving anyway. I told her to put me forward thinking it would go nowhere. That same day she came back with a positive response. I’ve been offered a temp-to-perm opportunity for more money and while not the position I was hoping for, it’s at least in the industry I just trained for.

I didn’t think, not for more than a moment. I accepted, and felt the bottom fall out of my world. I told all my bosses that Friday is my last day. They’ve been resigned and more or less gracious about my sudden departure. There have been a few barbed comments about how I probably owed them better after so many years. Captain, I’m a creature made of guilt right now. It’s never been a secret I was actively trying to leave, but this isn’t how I wanted the final farewell to go.

I guess I wanted someone else’ opinion- how much of the guilt I’m feeling is appropriate? Did I just act like a total jerk to people I’ve known a decade? I’m already so overwhelmed trying to wrap up everything at my old job, and mentally prepare for my new one that this guilt-monster is just, exhausting and beginning to convince me I’m a bad person who was nasty to people who’ve been more or less good to her.

What do you think Captain? Any insight would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Job Jumping

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