How it works: Patreon supporters can use the thread there to submit questions, everyone else can use Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which time I’ll answer as many as I can until 1pm
Discussions open after I’m done with the questions. These are fun to write.
Q1: I (she, feminine pronouns) work in the same industry as a close friend. Networking is a huge part of excelling and getting your work noticed. My friend, who I genuinely love, has blacklisted/ comprehensively gone off an astonishing number of people (male and female) in the industry, and she continues to speak very negatively of them whenever their names are mentioned. She experienced a lot of bullying growing up, and I don’t doubt that some of these industry people have behaved genuinely badly towards her. However, I have seen her decide to never speak to industry people (some of whom were also close friends) because of things that seem very minor or even completely subjective (for example, different texting styles or infrequent communication between projects). She gets very upset if I do not support her by cutting off these people, too. It’s getting to the point where I am not sure how to navigate this. For example, I just completed a very successful project with two people whom she introduced me to, but since then, she has decided never to speak to them again (to be clear, not over anything big like bullying or sexual harassment but because she thought the guy was giving off potentially flirty vibes – I read the email in question and it did not seem flirty to me). I’d like to work with them again, but I’m really worried about how she will respond. She’s already unhappy because I was invited to participate in an event with two other people she dislikes (because they didn’t want a close friendship with her but were otherwise perfectly friendly and professional). I didn’t even know they were involved until I’d agreed to participate! I don’t want to invalidate her experience, and I don’t want to work with assholes, but when she takes offense so easily and so often, I’m not sure how to proceed. I don’t want to be best friends with all these people – I just want to get my work done! She is otherwise a fantastic, very supportive friend. Advice + scripts for moving forward would be much appreciated!
A1: This sounds a lot like the letter Alison and I tackled together at Ask A Manager a few months back.
I appreciate your clarification that your friend’s dislike is not based on abuse or bullying or other #MeToo stuff, and is more about small interpersonal frictions or dislike. We all know that the same person can treat two people very differently, so I appreciate your thoughtfulness about that.
Say you do tell your friend about your plans to work with these folks she doesn’t like, and she complains about them a lot and seems to expect you to…what? Ditch working with them? Take on her grudge as your own?…I think it’s worth trying scripts like:
“Ok, I get that you don’t like them. What are you asking me to do?”
Like, get it in the open. Is she venting or is she expecting you to actually quit gigs or not accept any invitation that involves people she doesn’t like?
“Wait, are you asking me to not work with people that I work well with so far because you don’t like working with them?”
“I get that you don’t like _____, but you’re not the one that has to work with them. I don’t want to invalidate your experiences but I also need to cultivate my own professional network, even if it means working with people you aren’t fans of sometimes.”
“You should absolutely work only with people you respect and get along with. But what you look for in a collaboration isn’t necessarily the same as what I look for. I don’t need to be friends with people in order to work with them.”
“I always appreciate the heads up when a situation might get sticky, but I also appreciate the chance to form my own network and my own working relationships with people. Sometimes it feels like you expect me to take on every grudge you have as my own, and I don’t know what to tell you.”
Hopefully she’ll hear you. If you love and value this friend, I also suggest finding some Not Work topics of discussion.
Q2: I work at a university with an (apparently) amazing staff benefits package. Thing is, all my coworkers are permanent salaried employees, and I’m an underpaid temp worker. My contract keeps getting extended & I fully believe that they really will make it permanent sometime (soonish? hopefully?), but university bureaucracy is a nightmare. In the meantime, what do I do when my coworkers complain about not being able to use up their vacation time and I struggle to pay bills when the office closes for July 4? Do you have any scripts/methods for not raging when they talk about scheduling free massages & eye checkups?
A2: As an adjunct professor who recently had a tenured colleague complain to me about not knowing quite what to focus on during his upcoming paid sabbatical, my answer to this is:
FUCKED IF I KNOW
You could try silence, or “hrmmm, interesting” + ye olde subject change.
You could try “Oh, paid vacation time, that sounds like a pretty good problem to me! Let me know how that all works out.”
Fucked if I know.
Q3: What are you reading this summer?
A3: I’m reading EVERYTHING this summer. Thanks to library extension and being a fast reader and a little more free time than I get during the school year, I probably read a book about every three days.
Sunday I finally finished N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky (I’d been saving it) and then immediately started re-reading The Fifth Season.
Last week I devoured The Changeling by Victor LaValle (this needs to be a TV series ASAP, it’s just so visual and well-plotted and suspenseful) and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.
Right before that I read Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Circling The Sun by Paula McClain. And Mark Oshiro’s debut, Anger Is A Gift, which destroyed me and would be a great companion to The Hate U Give for YA books about right now.
I read all the Tommy & Tuppence books by Agatha Christie, in sequence. Michelle MacNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has me rethinking sliding glass doors.
I got some romance in there: T. Kingfisher’s The Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine made me rethink sexy paladins. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole should 100% be adapted for the screen.
Last night I started The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. It’s fun. Soon I’ll dive into Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.
Reading is the best.
Because this has come up before in book threads: I’m not a book blogger or book reviewer, and I’m sure everything I’ve listed here should get a trigger warning or content note for something. I read very fast, I read for my own fun, and I literally do not keep track of what might be upsetting to other people. This is a list of what I am reading, not what you or anyone should read. If something here catches your eye but you’re worried about potential triggers, please read someone else’s reviews before you dive in.
Q4: Any tips for dealing with shame/guilt about not being disciplined enough? I’m coming off a hellish couple of months of constant travel/public speaking/work events, and although it was great for my CV, it was really difficult and I’m feeling burned out. Now I just want to laze around the house and watch Parts Unknown, but I’m having a lot of trouble letting go of all of the projects that I want to do but aren’t urgent. It’s also making my envy of other colleague’s success much worse. I’m aware I’m being too hard on myself but am not sure how to move past thinking about it as a self-discipline problem.
Parts Unknown is wonderful and we’ve watched a fair bit of it ourselves this past month (The Houston episode is especially beautiful and seems like everything Bourdain was trying to do or say). And I’m glad you mentioned that show specifically, because it is a literally a show about stopping to smell the flowers and drink beers with people and look at the world.
You need breaks. You know you need breaks. So what if you gave yourself a defined period, like, three weeks, to just indulge in your breaks, read widely, catch up on TV and naps, etc. and then after that you’ll dive back into working on projects? That way you can tell the little “should” voice inside that you have a plan to get back to work.
The reason I say three weeks and not one week is that you need to trick your mind a little, like Marmee in Little Women when she said “fine, don’t do your chores, do whatever you want” and Beth was back to dusting in like, three days. One week isn’t enough time. Two is probably about right. That third week you’ll be actually a little bored with yourself and hungry to get back into a working routine.
Another suggestion: During that three weeks, disconnect from whatever medium keeps shoving your colleagues’ successes in your face. Who gives a shit what they’re doing? Their work doesn’t take anything away from yours.
Now go and RELAX.
Q5: What do I say in a first message to parents after 2+ years of minimal contact & a mental health breakdown last year that is continuing? I know I’ve disappointed them but I don’t really want to get into that or my mental health.
A5: This first message isn’t going to be the only message, right? So it doesn’t have to do All Of The Things. It doesn’t have to make up for lost time. It just has to communicate some version of “Hi, are you still there? I’m still here.”
People make fun of greeting cards for being trite (personally, I clutch my chest anytime I need to buy one and see that some of them are SEVEN WHOLE DOLLARS now), but sometimes trite gets the job done. Pick out a greeting card in the general “thinking of you” genre or a postcard with a cool image on it, scrawl out a short message, and send it. See what comes back.
Also, I think it would be helpful for you to avoid starting with “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch.” Maybe you are sorry, maybe you aren’t, maybe you aren’t the one who owes apologies, maybe no apologies are owed. Sorries are for later, if ever. Start with “Hi!”
I hope things get better for you real soon. ❤
Q6: I recently started my first full-time, after-college job, and it’s great. I firmly believe that I would not be here without your blog (and Ask a Manager!). Thank you so much. My question is, now that I have actual, functional health insurance (where the deductible isn’t so high that I can’t imagine actually scheduling anything) … how do I go about finding a primary-care doc and/or a dentist? My EAP has set me up with a short-term therapist for now, so huzzah for that, but I think I should probably schedule some checkups / cleanings / whatnot, and I don’t know where to start.
A6: Congratulations on the new job.
Your health plan almost certainly has a website, and that website has a “find a provider” function to help you locate people who are in network. For a primary care doctor in the USA look for both “primary care” and “internal medicine” as specialties. You could also ask nice coworkers who are on the same health plan, “Hey, I need to pick a primary care doctor and I’d like to find one close to the office – anybody know someone great?” Then pick one, make an appointment, and see how it goes.
I’ve also used apps like Zocdoc successfully. You enter all your stuff, and your health insurance info, and they match you to doctors who are taking new patients in your area.
I’m sure you can master these logistics, is part of this about not knowing which doctor to choose? I like seeing female doctors, I have better luck with young ones, I like asking them about Health At Every Size or at least people who can roll with “Yup, I’m fat, so, what would you do for a thin person with the exact same symptoms?” I like doctors who are close to public transit and close to work/home or other places I go regularly, so I factor all this in when I’m looking.
And then there’s good old trial-and-error. You’re not married to the first one you pick.
Q7: So, this may be too big a question for the short answer session, but I’d love some tips on becoming less selfish. The problem is on the surface I seem to others like a kind and generous person – I donate lots of time and money to charity, would rather get gifts for others than buy stuff for myself, take the time to listen when others are down, etc. However, I’m doing these things either to give myself an ego boost (i.e., I love to see a friend’s big smile when I’ve found the perfect gift) or because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t (i.e, helping coworkers when they seemed stressed due to heavy workloads). Even when I help others basically anonymously (such as giving money/food to the homeless) I’m doing it to give myself a warm fuzzy feeling. I feel awful that I am basically using other people this way but don’t know how to change my mindset.
A7: This sounds like a self-worth problem rather than a “doing generosity wrong” problem to me – have you ever spoken to a therapist about feeling like you’re using people when you do nice things for them? Is doing your best to be a kind person really a reason to beat yourself up? Maybe dig into that with a trustworthy pro.
The other practical solution that comes to mind: Volunteer for a cause in a way that connects you to an organization and community over a longer-term, so you are working on an issue in concert with other people. Let the community and the work sustain you.
Q8: Do you have any general guidelines/tips to help someone decide whether or not they should pursue therapy?
A8: Well, I think most adults could use a look under the emotional hood at some point in their lives, so if you’ve never tried it and you think you might benefit from it and you have access to it, why not try it? You could always stop if you don’t get anything out of it.
There is one kind of letter that I get over and over again that is almost universally a signal for “Stop, drop, and try therapy!”
That letter starts with “Ever since I was a child…” and then includes many many many details about childhood, family history, and things from the past that the Letter Writer thinks might be relevant to the current problem.
Then the current problem is something that could be solved with “Break up!” or “Maybe you could host Thanksgiving at your house instead?” and I am not making fun here – in most cases there is a pretty simple solution that feels genuinely impossible to the Letter Writer because the past is so much with them. It’s not their fault, it’s just that the coping mechanisms that they developed to survive whatever happened in the first 500 words or so of their letter are things that are not helping them function now.
Therapy’s good for that. It lets you excavate all that past stuff in a safe way. It helps you be the adult in your own life instead of the hurt child in somebody else’s life. It helps you tell new stories about what you want to do and what you need.
Q9: Partner & I don’t want homophobes at our wedding but we have lots of “disagree w/ the lifestyle” people in extended family. How do we find them out & not invite them? Have 50 conversations w/ people who don’t think they hate me but actually do? Scripts?
A9: Here’s one possible way to handle this:
Make a list of the people you want to be at your wedding. Not “because faaaaaamily” or “because mom will be mad if I don’t invite all the cousins” but the list of people whose faces you’d be genuinely happy to see that day. Are any of the known, vocal homophobes on that list? Cross them off.
Then invite the rest of the list.
If anyone left on the list of people you really want to see on your wedding day is secretly homophobic, they’ll self-select out. Or they’ll show up and they’ll behave themselves. Not a win, exactly, but maybe a draw?
If anyone, and I mean ANYONE, gives you shit about leaving off homophobic relatives, have a united front: “Wow, it’s so weird that you’d want us to invite someone who has said so many ignorant and terrible things about queer people to our big gay wedding.” “Well, Granny has made it pretty clear that she disagrees with our ‘lifestyle’, so why would we invite her, exactly?”
Your wedding doesn’t have to fix your family, or their attitudes. It also doesn’t have to settle every old score with perfect fairness.
Congratulations, I hope it’s an awesome party.