Thursday, December 4, 2014

How To Not Lose Your Shit at Work

There's a passage at my work that connects the kitchen to the bar.
Actually, the passage is a brewery. I announced to one of the
bartenders, on a recent afternoon, that I routinely find myself talking
aloud when I'm walking through that space alone.

"What do you say?" she asked me.

 "Oh, I just give myself little pep-talks!"

She laughed and gave me a look I've grown accustomed to receiving in
reaction to my more cheerful moments. We chatted about the content of
these private outbursts. Then, this slow, rainy, moon-y Thursday
evening, she suggested that I write a post about those talks to myself
in the brewery. I've elaborated on her idea with a few of my best tips
for staying sane in the soul-sucking chaos of the modern workplace.
While this refers specifically to restaurant work, I think these
life-saving strategies will assuage the pains of a range of jobs,
especially in the service industry.

1. Preparation is everything. My shifts go much more smoothly
when I've prepared: sleeping as well as I can, eating a meal, having the
tools that will get me through the day, from an emergency banana, to my
watch,  to a favorite essential oil. Provide for yourself and you'll be
amazed how much lighter you feel before even setting foot in the
building. Make sure you have any extras you need: a couple elastics,
pain-killers, tissues, gum, a tampon for you and a friend, your phone
charger, adjust freely. A server with a full and organized bag is a
happy server.

2. Flair is real. It may have prompted the most righteous flicking off ever in Office Space,
but expressing your personality with your style is one of the most
honest-to-goodness ways I know to stay calm and happy in a work setting.
Work drains me. Work can feel like a place where I'm erased. The right
earrings, a scarf, my shirt tucked in just so--these little things help
me hold onto my self. I need to wear all-black and no tank-tops, for
god's sake!  I cope with the dehumanization by wearing my hair in a
signature style, dressing consciously, and performing some basic
grooming rituals beforehand. This can be anything from a full-blown
home-spa bath experience (try epsom salts!) to just splashing cold water
on my face in the bathroom and tying a bandana on my dirty hair.
(Speaking of which. Dry shampoo. It will change your life). Dressing the
part distinguishes between who I am at work and who I am at home, and
bringing some of myself into my work attire bridges that gap.

3. Don't take it personally. I try to approach each shift as a
radical experiment in practicing detachment. Whether it's a glance, a
sigh, a rant, remember: it's not about you. Not taking it personally
means drawing a boundary around yourself. This border of protection
means you need not concern yourself with what others are thinking or
experiencing in a given moment: that is theirs to deal with. The most
you have done is provided a stimulus that triggered someones shit--that
doesn't make it yours. Take a deep breath, notice how you are feeling,
and then let it go. Not taking it personally doesn't mean you can't own
up for mistakes or notice the mistakes of others--it just means you
needn't identify with them. Bonus tip: When I was first starting
to realize that not everything another person did was a hidden slight
against me (what a revelation!) I visualized this boundary with a simple
image--a glow-y bubble, a circle of light, whatever your cynical little
heart can stand.

4. Don't shit-talk. Don't shit-talk yourself, don't shit-talk
your co-workers, don't shit-talk your customers, don't shit-talk your
boss. Resisting being drawn into negativity is doubtless one of the
trickiest endeavors we face, period. But practice this credo and
experience true freedom. Don't be afraid to change the subject or walk
away if you feel like you're being entangled in gossip or drama. You'll
be the most popular person at work if you refuse to talk shit--people
will wonder how you do that thing you do. The integrity you develop by
not allowing yourself to spew with the vicious abandon your id would
love pays spiritual and financial dividends.

5. Take care of number one.  When you're thirsty, drink. Hungry?
Eat something. Don't let the fact that you are at work and your time is
being paid for make you neglect your own needs. Far better to take the
thirty seconds to adjust your too-tight tights or stretch your arms over
your head than remain distracted and tense. Whether it's drinking a
glass of water every hour or taking a moment to apply some chap-stick,
allow yourself the tiny gestures it takes to keep you feeling good.
 It's insane how many times a night I hear a fellow employee mention
they've been so busy they haven't been able to pee. You're not that
busy. Go pee for fuck's sake. Bonus tip: Be a little fancy. Go
ahead, put a slice of lemon in your water. Straighten your tie, whistle a
tune, put a little more cream in your coffee.  You deserve it.

6. Get it while you can. When I run to the bathroom, I make sure
to take deep breaths while I'm in there. If I'm cold, I'll pay extra
attention to the warm water on my hands. If I'm hot, I'll rest a cold,
wet hand on the back of my neck for a few seconds. Waiting for a drink
at the bar? I stand up straight and adjust my posture with a few
breaths. Being mindful when you have a minute for yourself conserves
precious energy and emotional resources for when you inevitably get

7. Manage your time. I have ADHD and staying focused for long
periods of time (like 7 hour Saturday night shifts) can be difficult. I
break my time into chunks (I'm going to wipe down table 20 and 23, go
get more ice, then refill the linen) to get me through larger amounts of
time without projecting too far into the future. I try to have a
playful and elastic relationship with work time. It soothes me to have a
mantra: "I can do anything for one hour," helps me a lot, so does "This
is temporary." Make a (lame) game of it: I'll challenge myself not to
look at the clock for as long as possible, or time myself sorting a tray
of silverware.

8. Practice positive self-talk. To me, this means questioning and
then filtering the content of my inner monologue. Do you put yourself
down in your head or find certain phrases "This blows and I hate it and I
suck," just for example, running on a loop when you're distracted or
feeling poorly? Change the script. As corny as it sounds, telling
yourself nice things really does help you feel nicer. I amplify this
practice by talking to myself out loud if I've found that I can't censor
the flow of negative judgement.  I find an opportunity to say "You can
do this," or even just "You're ok and nothing is wrong right now." This
anchors me in the present and reaffirms my commitment to treating myself
with respect and kindness. As always, a deep breath is your cheapest,
most reliable, and most accessible source of instant self-care.

9. Pay attention. When I'm wiping down those tables or scooping
ice into a bucket, I notice what I'm doing: how the cold metal handle
feels in my hand, the sound the ice makes as I move it, the weight of
the bucket. I match my breath to this work and it becomes a brief
mediation, a way of staying grounded. If there's a breeze coming through
the windows, a good song on the radio, rain just about to fall, a
glorious sunset, I do myself the favor of noticing it. Paying attention
to what is actually happening right here and now makes it easier to stay
in the zone.

10. But not too much. The beauty of practicing mindfulness is
that you get to choose what you pay attention to, and you get to choose
what's happening inside your own head. I dream of sections of my novel
at work, write impassioned emails, enumerate the components of a perfect
Sunday afternoon. What's happening inside my head is mine alone, and it
can co-exist with the task at hand. I can choose to pay attention to
the drunken man leering at my body, or I can choose to pay attention to
the mom telling her daughters, "Wow, look how strong she is," as I'm
clearing the dishes from their table.

So there you have it. Fight the good fight.

TL; DR: Stay hot, don't talk shit and breathe, bitches.