PRATIE PLACE

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Busy

From Melina's diary...

New York workaholism is something that's new to me. I started my job in August and have ever since been asked repeatedly by my concerned co-workers and my boss Naomi:

"Are you too busy? Is there too much on your plate?"

Aside from this awful metaphor, which is a telling reversal of my mom's least favorite question to be asked by a waitress ("Are you still working on that?"), I have several problems with this question. I can never respond what I would like to respond:

"Yes. But you are too busy too."

People take that as a compliment, even if their work is making them unhappy. My other baby yuppie friends, who are working at places like investment banks, are secretly proud of their endurance even as they ask each other sympathetically "How are your hours?" Overwork is a sign of virtue, dedication, stamina. It's part of playing the new game of Grown-up, like trading your backpack for a bag and going to bed before midnight. It shows that they need you.

The life rhythm in the baby yuppie world is very different from college, where the work came in huge gusts. Last year I could work til 4 AM three nights in a row, turn the paper in, and sleep for a week. When all your work involves other people, and some of those people have families, you can't do it that way. Instead, all projects expand to fill up the time you have allotted to them and involve extremely complicated email discussions of your procedure.

In four months here, I have learned that doing a good job at work mostly entails explaining to people:
  1. What you are doing
  2. What they are supposed to be doing
  3. Why anyone decided to do this in the first place.
If you can explain these things simply, and if you can do it over and over again without getting impatient, everyone will love you. Because odds are, they have no idea.

Naomi likes to throw me into situations as her representative, with professionals who have been doing their jobs for years. It's a little tough on me, but what we often find out is that these professionals can no longer make the three explanations above, and then I can help them re-write whatever it is they're working on.

At a certain point, playing Grown-Up becomes more normal than whatever else you were doing. I see this in the eyes of another co-worker with a fairly recent baby, which she had at about fifteen years younger than the average New York parent age (about 42). She had the baby on purpose, with a husband and a job and everything, but still when she talks sometimes you can see, "why am I wearing this grown-up suit?" in her eyes.

Naomi works very very hard. When she asks me about My Plate, any answer would directly relate to the amount of work on Her Plate. And if I tell her she's working too hard, it would have the subtle air of a compliment. See the problem?

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