Colleague

My coworker, MC is leaving. In the year and a half we’ve worked together, I’ve learned enough about him to know that he doesn’t stay with any one employer for very long. He tends to be the person who is hired for a very specific purpose, usually doing very difficult work for which few possess just the right skill set to manage. Once the job is accomplished, it’s time for him to move on. And now is that time.

MC dug right in as soon as he was hired. He brought in his own ergonomic chair to accommodate his sometimes bad back. He learned the business in record time and soon was the subject matter expert on what seemed like almost everything. He surrounded his work space with white boards which were eternally filled with colorful writing. He was constantly jotting down thoughts, problems and formulas.

I’ll be sad to see MC go. He made an impact on me. He’s genius smart (though he’ll deny it if you say so to his face.) During the time we’ve worked together, I’ve learned so much from him. I’ve learned things that I thought were completely out of my grasp. MC is a data guy. And while working with him, I realized that I had an interest in “data stuff” too. He quickly became the team lead in our department and often allowed me to explore areas that piqued my interest. He was patient enough to show me the ins and outs of various subjects until I could competently and confidently assist him with some of the aspects of his “data guy” responsibilities. Now that he’s leaving, it looks like I’ll get to take a more active role with some of this stuff. I have him to thank for that.

More importantly than what MC helped me learn, is the fact that he helped me realize I am still learning. Not long ago, I would have limited myself in my goals, because of what I have done to this point in life and maybe more so because of what I have not done by this point in my life. By allowing me to do things that stretched beyond my perceived self-limits, MC showed me that it’s never too late and you’re never too old. I learned some things about myself through my connection with MC. I love a puzzle and the process of solving it. Tell me something is impossible to figure out or not worth the effort and I want nothing more than to prove you wrong.

MC is driven and he sees the big picture in any situation. It is a pleasure to work with someone who is passionate about their work even though sometimes that passion can feel very frustrating. Very few people make such a positive and powerful impact as they come and go in the lives of others. MC does. I had to tell him so. I wanted him to know that he lit a fire under me and my coworkers. No matter what he felt he did or didn’t accomplish, he most definitely accomplished good things while he was with the company. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

He was a little speechless over my thanks, and we laughed about the fact that speechlessness is a rare thing for MC. He’s not an emotional guy. He’s matter-of-fact. But I told him I was old enough and had learned by now that sometimes it’s important to tell people  thank you and acknowledge when they’ve done something generous. He is moving on. It is unlikely I will see much of MC again. I wanted him to know that I am grateful to him for helping me see things in myself that I didn’t know were there.

At lunchtime today, I went outside with some coworkers. We made a couple of laps around the pond to stretch our legs and enjoy the sun. Break time was over too soon.

I returned to my desk and jumped on a call with a client. I was feeling overwhelmed today and as soon as my call was over, I dove into another task, but not before I realized something didn’t feel quite right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first and asked a few people if they had seen anyone at my desk while I was away. No one seemed to know anything. I was stumped… and a little bit annoyed, until I had an inkling.

I got up from my desk and walked over to MC’s desk. He had gone home for the day when I poked my head in his doorway and my suspicions were confirmed. There at MC’s desk was my company-issued chair. I walked back to my desk and it all made sense. My annoyance faded away. MC had given me his own chair as a parting gift!

Office-Chairs-91

Happy Hour with Larry

As I was leaving work I was asking myself, “WHY am I going to a happy hour with Mark’s coworkers?”

I hardly ever make it to happy hour with my own coworkers. But Mark has worked with Larry since he first started his job, right around the time we began dating. Larry suffered a severe burn while on the job in those early days and that’s when I got to know him and his wife, Jeannie. Larry was in the hospital burn unit with all these bandages on his leg. It was kind of scary, but he came through it alright and went back to work for many more years.

I remember dancing with Larry at my wedding. His leg was still all wrapped up. I remember him making a remark about not having to let someone else dance with me because he was special with all those bandages on his leg.

Now Larry is retiring. It doesn’t seem like that many years could have passed, but we’re all getting old now. Larry sent me an email on Monday, saying, (and I quote,)” HEY TERRI WED 20TH AFTER WORK COME ON DOWN TO THE POINT FOR A BEER  MARK IS BUY N”

I thought about whether or not I wanted to go to a hole-in-the-wall bar after work on Wednesday to drink with Mark’s coworkers. And then I remembered, it’s Larry. He’s kinda special. So I responded, “Sounds fun! See you then!”

Larry replied, “SWEET”

(Punctuation is not a requirement in Larry’s world. Nor are lowercase letters.)

So I left work this afternoon and the whole while I was driving to The Point, I was thinking how much I’d rather just go home and see my dogs and kick back in the recliner and watch The United States of Tara on Netflix. (Darn my daughter for getting me hooked on these t.v. shows!) But as I arrived, there was Mark, waiting for me outside the entrance of The Point and thanking me for coming and telling me how important it was to Larry. And then we walked in and there was Larry and he was wrapping me up in a huge Larry bear hug and telling me how happy he was that I had come to help him celebrate his retirement. And soon someone was putting a beer in my hand and Mark was walking me around, introducing and reintroducing me to his coworkers whom I may or may not have met over the twenty-five plus years he has worked for his company. Seemed like everyone was named Bob or Dave and I couldn’t keep all the Bobs and Daves straight. Many of them hugged me and told me how good it was too see me. I remembered Jolene from Larry’s daughter’s wedding and reception a few years ago. I remembered how much fun (too much!) that Jolene and I had had that night. 

I finally got to meet Sumitra. Mark has often talked about Sumitra and how much he likes her. The woman had me in hysterics, telling a tale about some acquaintance who had undergone plastic surgery and imitating this person’s facial expressions … or lack thereof. I’m not kidding. I nearly peed my pants. And it was all over for me when she began to imitate Jolene’s various southern accents. Which one Jolene uses is apparently dependent on who she is speaking to and which part of the South they are calling from. I quickly forgave Mark for having a workplace crush on Sumitra.

Dave and Mark and Dave. Or is it Bob and Mark and Bob?

Dave and Mark and Dave. Or is it Bob and Mark and Bob?

Soon I was catching up with the other guys’ wives and we were all asking each other why we don’t get together more often. Larry was never without at least two beers in his hands and he was busy hugging all of his guests over and over again. I had all but forgotten my earlier complaints to myself about attending this shindig, I was having so much fun. But soon it was time to eat some dinner and the crowd began to disband. Larry was going to need a designated driver. Thankfully Jeannie was there to drive him home. Jolene was hugging me and kissing my cheek and insisting we do this more often. I promised her we would definitely do this again soon… at Larry’s surprise birthday/retirement party in a few weeks. (Shhhh! Don’t tell Larry!)

Good people these are that Mark works with. I had a good time. I’m glad I went after all. It was definitely a happy hour.

Positively

Ever notice how negative people can be?

My company has just undergone some big changes. We were recently acquired by a large, successful and reputable corporation. And as a result, we’ve moved to a new location not far from where our old offices were located. Our first day in the new place was the day after Christmas and since then, I’ve noticed a lot of discontent. I’m hearing a lot of complaints. The cubicles are too close together. There’s no longer an office manager which means  that when there are visitors or deliveries, everyone is expected to lend a hand with receiving them. The water filter/ice machines haven’t been installed. It’s too loud. It’s too cold. There aren’t a hundred restaurants within walking distance like there were when we were downtown. We’re not all sure where to find all of our office “stuff” just yet. So much of what was familiar for so many years has changed.

google images

google images

People are frustrated. And I get it. I do. There have been some hitches as we try to get settled in the new office and figure out new policies, systems and websites. Change isn’t easy for everyone. Some who had nice, big offices in the old place have had to downsize to smaller offices. Some who had offices before have been downgraded to cubicles. Even for those of us who are accustomed to the cubicle environment, there are adjustments to make. There’s no longer a white-noise system to help minimize distractions. We can hear everything going on around us. Everything is new and different.

But I am a bit taken aback because what this change means for all of us is job security, which has been in short supply for the past few years. It means resources to grow our business and the chance to make something big of our products and services. So we have to make a few concessions. I just don’t think that all this negativity is helping anyone to acclimate, so I’d rather we all just make the best of it. A negative attitude just makes the workday drag on. It seems to me that finding the positives in all this change will make a better working environment and brighter days for everyone.

I much prefer positive people who can look for the silver lining in any situation, not just at work but in life in general. A positive attitude goes such a long way in making others happy and helping them to want to pay it forward. And this is probably what attracted me to the blog of Steve Harper, aka Mr. Ripple. Steve has made a career out of his ability to connect with others and make a positive impact.

And also, he’s promoting a post that I wrote about a piece of my work life, so that alone moves him right to the top of my favorites list! :-) I have to say, it’s quite an ego boost to have someone come along and say, “I like what you wrote. Do you mind if I use it?” NO, I don’t mind! What are you, crazy?

Steve has written a book called The Ripple Effect, about “how one simple action can dramatically affect the lives of friends, family, colleagues, customers… even people you’ve never met.” And if you like, you can hire him to come speak about his beliefs in “the power of positive connection.”

Seems like I should figure out a way to convince the powers that be to have Mr. Ripple come pay us a visit! And, you know… if you have similar needs, or just want to read something that will help you improve your relationships, go check out Steve’s website yourself!

@

I have a coworker whom I really enjoy working with because he challenges my brain. MC is genius smart. I mean really. Genius.

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work on projects with MC and I always come away feeling as if I’ve pushed myself beyond my limits. It’s a great feeling to know you can still learn things you honestly thought you could never grasp. I don’t even want to admit how giddy it made me to learn how to create and use pivot tables in Excel.

MC has a unique personality. He’s uber polite, professional, extremely proper, almost old-fashioned in some ways. So it surprised me when I realized he has a fun side too. A while ago, I received an instant message from MC. There was a project I was expecting and I knew he would be providing some details in this message.

“Agent Terri,” began the message. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

It made me laugh. I told MC he was now responsible for the fact that the Mission Impossible theme song would be stuck in my head for the remainder of the day. I told him I accepted the mission.

Since that time, MC has often addressed me as Agent Terri, in person, in emails or in instant messages. Which is kind of funny, now that I think about it. MC does not allow anyone to refer to him by the nickname commonly associated with his given name. He prefers to be called only by his formal name. Yet I remain Agent Terri.

Lately, some of MC’s email messages to me have begun with the “at” symbol. Since we are jointly working on several items, there is a lot of email communication between us. The first time one of MC’s emails began with the “at” symbol, I assumed that he had simply composed his message in a rush. He’s a very busy guy. You might even say that his workload is overwhelming. It’s one of the drawbacks of being the person who knows so much and possesses such a variety of talents.

Several emails from MC lately have begun with or contained the “at” symbol. I wondered if it was symbolic of something, kind of like the way a colon, dash and parentheses are combined to make a sideways smiley face.

This morning, I met with MC to discuss another project with which I was helping him. As we concluded our meeting, he stated that he would email some instructions to me along with a spreadsheet to document our findings. True to his word, later that morning I received the details he had promised. And upon opening the spreadsheet, I saw the two columns he said he would add so that we could each document our findings. One was labeled “MC’s” and one was labeled, “@’s.”

That’s when it dawned on me. “@” wasn’t symbolic of some sort of smiley face. “@” was symbolic of me! I am @. Agent Terri. AT. @.

I’m trying to figure out if it’s funny that it took me this long to realize that I am @, or if it’s funny that MC assumed I would automatically know that @ is code for Agent Terri.

Either way, I kind of like having my own symbol! Move over, Prince!

God’s not in the mailbox

As it often does, the lunch time conversation turned to religion. We each talked about the different ways we were raised in our faiths, our pitfalls along the way, the different beliefs we’ve held over the years. I mentioned my disappointment over the fact that I couldn’t recall having one of those big faith moments that so many people have experienced. You know the ones – those moments when someone clearly hears God speaking, or sees Him in the everyday surroundings, or simply has a defining moment when His presence is undeniably felt. I said that maybe it’s a failure on my own part that I haven’t had one of those moments. Either way, it contributes to my struggle with religion.

I wanted to lighten the mood, so I relayed an experience I had just last night. I was reading. Mark was watching t.v. and opening mail. I hadn’t been minding my husband, but he caught my attention when I heard him say, “Oh that was freaky! This is freaking me out! Look at this!”

I looked up to find him holding a sheet of paper in front of me that looked like this:

“Just stare into His eyes,” Mark told me. “Stare at them for a few minutes and you’ll see them open!”

So I stared.

And I stared.

And I stared some more.

I could literally feel my heart sink. His eyes didn’t open for me. I was sure it was a sign of my failure to be strong in my faith.

“His eyes aren’t opening for me,” I sort of whined to Mark.

“Just keep looking. They’ll open.”

I stared more. I knew what this was. I’ve seen plenty of optical illusions in my time. I couldn’t make this one work.

“I can’t see it,” I said to Mark, feeling defeated. And then I Googled the image to see what my failure said about me.

I explained to my coworkers that I was relieved to see that according to Google, this illusion was unanimously seen as a scam. The picture comes to you by mail. When you see the eyes of Jesus open, you are amazed and filled with awe. And this will make you want to follow the enclosed instructions and send your prayer requests (and some moolah!) to the designated church, which only exists as a P.O. box. Some “pastor” is getting rich off this scam. But he’s getting nada from me because the miracle failed to materialize for me.

My coworkers wanted to see the image that had me so bothered, so after lunch, I passed on a link. Thus ensued the following instant message conversation:

I’d like to think God has a sense of humor. I sure hope so because this had me laughing harder today than I’ve laughed in … I don’t know … a long time! And I’ve really been feeling like I could use a laugh lately. My coworkers sensed my feelings of worry over a silly mailing and took it upon themselves to make me see the lighter side of it. And anyone who has coworkers like mine would surely feel blessed!

Have I learned anything from this experience? Yes. I can find God wherever I think I might find him. It doesn’t have to be where others tell me he should be found.

Kindness Unexpected

Not too many people surprise me anymore. But today I was surprised.

I came down with a cold early this week. At first it was all in my head, or more accurately, in my sinuses. I spent a couple of days feeling as if my head was going to explode. Then last night, my head began clearing and the cold moved downwards. So now I’ve got a lovely cough.

Michael is the newest member of our department. He’s always the first one to arrive each day. I’m always the second one in. It’s quiet before the rest of the crew arrives.

This morning, I came to work. I got settled at my desk. I coughed. I logged into my computer. I coughed some more. Michael appeared in the doorway of my cubicle, looking hesitant.

“Miss Terri,” he asked? (He calls me Miss Terri. I’m not sure why. I think he’s just uber-polite.)

“Hi Michael,” I said.

“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help noticing you’re coughing.”

“Yep, I’ve got a little cold going on. My turn I guess,” I said. Michael had endured a nasty cold for a couple of weeks recently, and so had Belinda.

Michael had a worried look on his face. “Well,” he said, “I just wanted to say that I’m sincerely sorry if you caught my cold germs. I really tried to keep my distance from everyone, and I went to the doctor and he said it was nothing more than the average cold. I know I sounded really bad, but there were a couple of days when I just couldn’t stay home and I had to come to work.”

“Michael,” I said, waving my hands as if brushing off his concerns. “It’s not your fault. It’s just that time of year. I get one of these every winter and my daughter just had it last week. Don’t worry!”

“Well, okay then,” he said. “But if there’s anything I can do to help you feel more comfortable, please let me know. If you want some juice or anything, I can run downstairs and get some for you. Just let me know.”

I was damn near speechless. Who does things like that? I mean, most people I know are nice enough, but not many would go so far a s to offer to go buy some orange juice for a sick coworker.

All I could do was mutter a very shocked “Thank you!”

And then I went and told all of my office buddies about Michael’s kindness. Most of them did that thing where they put a hand over their heart and cooed, “Oh my gosh! He is SO sweet!” (Michael is engaged. The consensus is that he is going to be a great husband!)

His kindness made me feel so good today that I decided to pay it forward. We have a couple of external auditors working in our office this week. One of them was looking for a Mountain Dew yesterday at lunch time and was disappointed to find there was only the diet variety in the pop machine on our floor. While I was down on our other floor today, I noticed the pop machine there had Mountain Dew. I bought one for the auditor and brought it back upstairs, leaving it on his desk with a note saying, “I grabbed a Mountain Dew for you while I was downstairs today. Enjoy.”

I hope maybe it made him feel as good as Michael’s kindness made me feel. He did come and thank me. He seemed a little surprised. Maybe he thought I was weird. But maybe he thought, “Hey, not many people surprise me anymore…”

Joe and the Cuties

Work is making me want to pull my hair out. That’s both good and bad. Good – because it means things are happening and that I am fortunate enough to have a job that helps pay the bills and offers the added bonus of challenging me. Bad- because I don’t think I’d look good without hair.

My brain has no chance of rotting in the currently challenging environment, although at the end of many days, it does feel like it has turned to mush.

I’m not really complaining about my job. It’s just that sometimes it stresses me out and I’ve had more than my share of headaches lately and I have to remember to take a few deep breaths and just carry on and that everything will be fine.

One thing – or rather – one person who keeps me going is Joe. Joe has quickly become one of my most favorite coworkers. Joe is the calm and confident yet modest one. Joe is the smart one who is able to think things through and figure out the difficult details when the rest of us think there’s no clear answer.

And Joe gets me. I may have told him one too many times that sometimes, when the discussion becomes too technological or the subject is simply beyond my knowledge, or something just doesn’t make sense, my brain just shuts down.

So yesterday, during a team discussion, Brenda posed the question, “So, when I’m in the document, am I actually in the document?”

I just so happened to catch Joe’s eye at that moment and he was looking at me with eyebrows raised, and I knew it. He was fully aware that the conversation at that very moment was moving forward without me. He knew it. I knew he knew it. It was a bonding moment.

What kind of question is that anyway? “When I’m in the document, am I actually in the document?” What the hell?

Joe says he’s a geek at heart and he’s proud of it. Today he told us he was glowing because he knew the meaning behind a particular acronym.

“Glowing,” I asked? “Over an acronym? Brenda and I complimented your new haircut this morning and you didn’t glow over that, but now you’re glowing over an acronym?”

Joe takes our teasing in stride. He’s a good egg.

But the best thing about Joe is his subtle sense of humor. He slips in these quiet little remarks and a split second passes before you realize that he’s just made a joke.

Today was a particularly pressure-filled day. We ended up eating our lunches in the conference room while continuing work on our project with the very near deadline. Joe was explaining about the clementines he’d been eating today and all week long. Some of them were very tasty, he said, but some of them were just awful.

“What brand are they,” I asked?

“I don’t know, but they’re not Cuties,” he replied.

“I was just going to ask that,” I said. “I don’t like Cuties. I’ve had bad luck with Cuties. I can’t remember the name of the brand that I do like.”

“I’ve never had trouble with the Cuties,” Joe said.

For a moment, I thought that was the end of the conversation, and then the humor in his statement struck me and I looked over at him, unable to hide the smile on my face.

“Tell your friends,” Joe said with a smile.

That’s exactly the kind of remark that keeps me from getting too overwhelmed at work! I don’t know what I’d do without Joe. He helps me remember that nothing is impossible and when we work as a team, we can accomplish all of these challenging tasks we have on our plates.

Everyone should have a Joe in their office!