#PrioritizingBusyness

 

We heard keys in the door, then the voice of a cheerful young woman.

“Good moooooorning!” she yelled.

“Hey!” Octavia hollered back.

“Helloooooo!” I yelled.

“Who’s that?”

“R.C. Paige. New girl,” I said.

She turned on the overhead TV in the office lobby, then come back to our area and turned on another overhead TV. News blasted from the lobby TV and muzak played from the TV on our side, which showed a list of the day’s hearings scheduled.

“You can always tune that out and pull up a TV on your screen,” Octavia said. “In fact, you’ll need to keep that window open to MSNBC so you don’t miss anything.”

“I’m a news junkie anyway,” I assured her.

“Take that up a notch and you’ll be fine,” she said. “Anytime you can get a jump on her, do. She’ll respect you for it.”

“What you mean?” I asked.

“Be proactive. That’s what she wants. I’ll give her credit, they’re never gonna catch her sleeping…”

We heard keys again, then the front door open, then we smelled coffee.

“Who dat?” the young woman hollered.

“King of the castle. Who you think?” came a male’s voice.

“Hey Billy. What up?” the young woman yelled. “Take the lock off,” she added.

“Hi. I’m Nia. Heard a lot about you,” the young woman said, dropping a stack of newspapers on my desk.

“Don’t tell me,” I smiled.

Octavia reached over me and closed the e-mail.

“I need to show you some other things,” she said.

Besides writing press releases to get coverage for upcoming bills and events, and besides calling reporters and pitching stories, I’ll need to plan for big projects, including newsletters, and a year-end report to media. She gave me a ten-page exit memo with a lot of the work outlined. I took a lot of notes, too. She showed me templates for press releases, and templates for statements and resolutions I’ll have to write, but the whole time she was explaining stuff, calls were coming in for interviews.

She showed me the list of media contacts and explained which reporters were friendliest to Madame Senator. She showed me where senatorial bills and correspondence are filed on our shared computer drives, and gave me e-mail addresses for leaders of the Democratic Press Secretaries group so I can keep up with the daily talking points they issue Congress members in the House and Senate. Anytime there’s a major issue in the news, in order for them to deliver a consistent message, the Majority Leader of the Senate’s office will send us all talking points, facts and statistics to use in our press releases.

“They have message meetings on Mondays and strategy sessions on Thursdays,” Octavia explained, “But you’ll hardly have time to attend them.”

When Madame Senator gives an interview, I will have to monitor the interview, whether it’s a live camera interview, or an off-the-record phone conversation with a reporter.

“Make sure she doesn’t get misquoted, whatever you do. Make sure the reporter gets it right the first time,” Octavia said.

 

  1. Is your daily To-Do list crammed with more than ten things to do (cook the family breakfast, pack lunch, drop off the dry cleaning, work 8-10 hours at the office, take daughter to choir rehearsal, pick up son from basketball practice, serve dinner, check homework, one load of laundry, entertain/romance your spouse/lover OR go to school full-time, work two part-time jobs and an internship)?
  2. How do you forgive yourself when you don’t complete every task with 100 percent perfection?
  3. When/how can you be less busy?
  4. What would be the benefits of reducing your business (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?

#Information Overload

 

“I worked for her before, you know. In the District office,” I said.

“No. They didn’t tell me that part.  You worked for her and you came back? You must be a glutton for punishment.”

“I respect her,” I said.

She remembered something else.

“Slide over a minute.  Let me get to that stack of papers in the corner. I can’t afford to leave this behind,” she said pulling a red folder from the bottom of the stack.

The bleep of incoming e-mail caught my attention.

“What’s all this?” I asked.

“Google and Yahoo alerts so anytime Madame Senator’s name or issues are in the news you’ll know.”

We heard a thump at the front door.

“They’re late with the papers this morning,” Octavia said. “They’re usually here when we get in.  You’ll read them and circle anything she needs to be aware of.  She’s pretty good at staying on top of things. Watches CNN non-stop, so you definitely have to be up to speed.”

She turned to the cabinets against the wall and retrieved two large black binders.  One contained clips, printed articles about or quoting Madame Senator, the other filled with daily press releases in chronological order. The floor to ceiling shelves were full of these black binders.

We heard keys in the door, then the voice of a cheerful young woman.

“Good moooooorning!” she yelled.

“Hey!” Octavia hollered back.

“Helloooooo!” I yelled.

“Who’s that?”

“R.C. Paige.  New girl,” I said.

She turned on the overhead TV in the office lobby, then come back to our area and turned on another overhead TV.  News blasted from the lobby TV and muzak played from the TV on our side, which showed a list of the day’s hearings scheduled.

“You can always tune that out and pull up a TV on your screen,” Octavia said.  “In fact, you’ll need to keep that window open to MSNBC so you don’t miss anything.”

“I’m a news junkie anyway,” I assured her.

“Take that up a notch and you’ll be fine,” she said.  “Anytime you can get a jump on her, do.  She’ll respect you for it.”

“What you mean?” I asked.

“Be proactive.  That’s what she wants.  I’ll give her credit, they’re never gonna catch her sleeping…”

  • In this era of information-overload (a 24-hour news cycle, social media bleeping every other minute, your turn on any number of online games) how do you disconnect to de-compress?
  • Why do you think it’s necessary to de-compress? (Or why not)
  • Ow do you feel after a day/week/month of refraining from news, social media and/or online games?

#WorstJobs

 

Octavia was about 5’4”, light brown with long, wavy black hair, and chiseled facial features. Her demeanor was polished and professional in slacks and a pullover top.

“Glad you could start right away.  They told me a lot about you.  Madame Senator’s real excited you’re coming on board.”

“So, where are you going? On to bigger and better things?” I asked, stuffing my purse into one of the two empty overhead shelves she pointed out at the desk. “Didn’t you just start this job a couple months ago?”

I knew the answer.  She had been there three months.  I also knew that before Octavia took the job, another woman had worked it just one day and quit.

“I came, I saw, I went,” she said.

She exhaled deeply. Then, as if suddenly remembering something, she opened one of the lower desk drawers and retrieved another folder she stuffed into her tote bag.

“You came, you saw, you went,” I repeated. “Got the tee-shirt?”

“Got the lumps,” she said. She thumbed through drawers pulling papers from folders and personal items. “I’ll show you where to go for your I.D. and parking pass. You will be driving, I hope?”

“Nope. I’ll be on the train,” I said.

“You’ll need a back-up plan.  Some nights you’ll be working long after the train stops. And you know cabs don’t pick up Black folks,” she said.

She pulled her chair under the desk and I pulled up a chair next to her.  “I’ll show you where the cafeterias are and the vending machines. Also, there’s a gym and a dry cleaners, and a shoe repair shop. You’ll love the amenities,” she said.  “You can rent movies from the Blockbuster machines, and, if there’s any book you need, any book ever printed, you can call down to the Library of Congress and they’ll have it brought to you.”

“Cafeteri-AS?” I asked.  “The last couple of places I worked in barely had a vending machine in the building.”

“There’s one full-scale, sit-down cafeteria with breakfast and lunch served. Then there’s a carryout that only serves sandwiches and salads down the hall from the cafeteria.  In the Longworth, which you can get to through the tunnels when the weather’s bad or you’re in a rush, there’s another cafeteria, a Starbucks, and a general store.”

She pulled up her e-mail account and deleted blocks and forwarded some, as she explained the campus amenities.

“Oh, and a supplies store and a gift shop,” she remembered.  “Girl, these cats made sure they wouldn’t want for nothing. There’s a barbershop, a doctor’s office, and a nurse stations, too. Oh, remind me to pick up my clothes…”

Octavia had one small box and a large canvas bag stuffed with envelopes to take with her from the desk she was turning over to me. She had a checklist of things to do and things to tell me, and she went through the list almost mechanically, crossing off items as we went.

“Let’s see how much of this we can get through before shit starts popping,” she said, studying her list.  “Oh, and I might as well warn you, just because they got all this shit up here don’t mean you’ll get to take advantage of it.  The shit ain’t cheap for one, and you really won’t have time.”

“It’s still nice to know it’s available,” I said.  “My last job barely had toilet paper in the bathroom, and at one point the only water cooler we had was collecting dust because we couldn’t pay for refills. All this stuff at the ready? I done died and come to heaven.”

She said rather flatly, “You keep that attitude.”

  • Measure the growth. Compare your current job (even if you are unemployed and your job is applying for jobs) to the worst job you’ve ever had.
  • How did your worst job help prepare/position you for your current position?
  • Now that you understand that worst job was part of your growth process, what kind words can you say to that former boss/employer?

#HeroesAndSheroes

 

For the first day on the job I wore my dark blue Calvin Klein pants suit, a light blue striped Ralph Lauren blouse, the one with the white collar and white French cuffs, and clunky blue Tommy Hilfiger loafers. My coif was frizzy, but I don’t mind looking like an Afro-headed Anne Taylor – Anne Taylor on a budget. I found all my designer pieces at Marshall’s and TJ Maxx, and did my hair myself.

I got up in time to make an egg sandwich and coffee for breakfast before I left. I was determined to arrive feeling comfortable rather than rushed. I read the Washington Post on the train, and felt sufficiently briefed by the time I arrived at my stop. It was a good thing I left early because the Capitol Hill campus is a maze. Not long after I passed through the metal detector and collected my keys and purse off the conveyor belt, I realized I was in the wrong building.

“O.k. Who moved the elevators?” I joked, smiling at a pair of security guards.

“Where are you going ma’am?” the woman guard asked with a cocked smile, her sandy-colored dreadlocks pulled up in a ponytail.

“I’m going to work for Senator Jackson,” I said, digging in my purse to find the card with the room number on it. “I was here just a couple weeks ago for my interview.  The elevators were right there,” I laughed, pointing.

“Ma’am you’re in the wrong building.  I could send you through the tunnel, but I don’t want to get you lost again.” She opened the glass door next to the revolving glass doors and pointed the way.  “What you want to do is go back out here, hang a right and go in the next building,” she said.  Her partner lit up with a smile.

“Tell her the truth,” he said sarcastically.  “What she really wants to do is make a left and run.” He shook his head. “I seen Madame Jackson make grown-ass dudes cry,” he chuckled.   “Grown-ass white dudes. She breaks ‘em down.”

I laughed with him.

“Run? Me? Don’t let the smooth taste fool you,” I said. I hate it when people mis-read me as soft because I smile easily.

I was glad I wore sensible shoes as I walked two city blocks to get to my building. The work crowd was just beginning to trickle in.  I took the stairs to make up for lost time.  The worn white marble steps and polished wooden rails held a certain charm I could enjoy even in a rush. I pushed open the heavy steel double doors leading out of the stairway. My steps echoed through the corridors. I noticed the flags posted on each side of an office entrance – the U.S. flag and the state flag.  I smiled when I reached my new office.  There stood one grand ole stars and stripes on one side of the entrance, our state flag – a lone white eagle under a big yellow sun against a red background – on the other.

The office door was locked. I slapped the wood a few times, waited a few seconds, and then pounded. A woman about my age woman opened the door gave me a strange look.

“Oh. My bad. They said someone would be here early.  I’m Ruqiyah Paige, the new communications director,” I said.

“Come on in.  I was on a call.  I’m Octavia,” she said.

I followed her through the office lobby where photos of Senator Jackson with Corretta Scott King, Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi adorned the walls.  The front desks were vacant and the only sound was a fax machine spitting out papers.

  • List 10 people in your life you admire and tell why you admire them.
  • What personality traits of theirs do you have or wish you had?
  • Knowing that your admiration of him/her is likely a reflection of dormant strengths you have, just waiting for your permission to blossom, consider an upcoming big decision or project in your life. How would you handle it if you were acting more like the people you admire most?

#DifficultPeople

 

June 15, 2008

 

I hoped I made the right decision. I prayed about it but got no answer.  Should I go to work for Senator Billie Jean Jackson, knowing what I know about her? Or should I follow my first instinct? I cringed when her chief of staff asked me to apply for the job. Then I thought better of it. It would be an honor to help her tell her story her way as her communications director.  I could use all the reporting, writing, and political skills I had gained over the years to get her messages out.  I had worked for Madame Senator before – ten years ago when her district director hired me in the District Office back home. I am familiar enough with Madame Senator’s legendary temper tantrums.

“That’s MY goddamned name on the door. The people voted for me! Fuck you!” I had heard Madame Senator scream once when I was on the phone with her office. I had heard her chief of staff fire back.

“Sit your simple-ass down somewhere and let me handle this! Your ass is too hard-headed! That’s what’s wrong with you!”

Sitting at my desk in the District Office, I pulled the phone away from my ear. Where I came from, that language was unprofessional at best.

“Aw fuck you!” Madame Senator yelled back.

“No! Fuck you!”

They went around and around a few minutes.

“That’s Madame Senator?” I asked the receptionist.

“Yep.”

“I hope we don’t have company,” I laughed.

“A reporter just left,” she said. “Who would you like to speak to?”

I explained that we were waiting for approval of a few “thank you” letters from Madame Senator. I wrote letters to or for our constituents daily, then submitted them to Madame Senator’s district director. I hardly spoke with the Senator directly.  Even when I had to call the Hill office, I would speak with her legislative director or her chief of staff instead of her.

“Would you like to speak with the Senator?” the receptionist asked.

Not if I could help it, I thought.

“Just slip a note on her desk reminding her that the District Office is waiting for her to sign off on those letters. Thanks.”

Despite Senator Jackson’s temper tantrums, I have a lot of respect for her. I had loved working in her District Office answering voters’ questions and helping them access federal agencies to solve a problem with veterans’ services, a Social Security check, or a family member in a federal prison. We might get twenty to thirty desperate calls for assistance a day. I had enjoyed working on community events, such as her annual “Congressional Essay Competition” for high school students. Students could win cash prizes and showcase their work in Madame Senator’s newsletter and our hometown newspaper. I had especially enjoyed working on Madame Senator’s annual Christmas party where we dressed as elves and served more than three hundred poor children pizza. We handed each child a toy, a coat, and a book, purchased by donations from corporations. I remembered how much it meant to me to have one thing for Christmas in my youth since my parents could not afford gifts for us.  So it had been an especially rewarding part of the job to spread holiday cheer to other poor children.

I had worked on Madame Senator’s annual “procurement fair,” where we helped local small business owners meet federal agents to later secure federal contracts.  Madame Senator would hold a press conference, assuring voters that she was working to create opportunities for them. She was brilliant and persuasive. It was no wonder she had been reelected to Congress ten times, then elected as our state’s first African-American senator. She became only the second African American woman to serve in the exclusive club of old white men. I worked for her not only because I needed a job at the time.  I also believed I could learn a lot working with her.  That’s what I believed at twenty-six.  Ten years later, I need a job again, but this time, I believe I can give her the edge she needs. She’s getting old now and needs new energy, new ideas.  So, I accepted the offer even knowing what I knew.

I e-mailed my best friend, Victoria, “I accepted the job! We’re about to make history!”

  • List three of the most challenging people you have encountered in your life.
  • What did you despise most about them?
  • How could they possibly be a reflection of you – your fears/beliefs that keep you from behaving like them, your secret admiration of their strengths?
  • Why do you think they have focused their attention on you? What is it about you they admire and are pushing you to overcome or develop?

#WorkLifeBalance

 

Of course, I’m going to miss having an office to myself.  My desk here is one of six tiny cubicles. I got comfortable in the high-backed black, executive chair, as Octavia showed me what was what and what was where where on the computer.

“The first thing you’re going to do in the mornings is go to the Morning Whip’s schedule to see what’s on the floor.  Anytime Madame Senator has a bill in committee, even if it’s a subcommittee, she’ll want you to do a press release,” Octavia said.  “Even if they’re only marking up her bill, and even if it’s the same bill she’s been introducing, and re-introducing every year since she’s been here, she’ll want you to do a press release. ” The LD probably will tell you a day or two in advance, but sometimes things get so hectic, they might miss it, and you don’t want to be caught unaware.”

“L.D.?” I asked, as she stood over me, pointing at the computer screen, motioning me to scroll down to the “Daily Whip,” a schedule of the bills Senators will debate.

“Legislative Director,” she said. “Billy is the L.D. He’s here, but he went downstairs to get breakfast. Billy’s usually here by eight, but the office doesn’t open officially until nine. You’ll like Billy. You’ll like everybody here, pretty much,” she said. Without digressing, she continued showing me what else I needed to know.

“Once you see what’s on the Floor Agenda for the day, go to Madame Senator’s web site and see what she has already said about that issue and print those previous press releases out for her. Pull up her web site, so I can show you where the major pieces are because they don’t always come up in a keyword search,” she said.

I typed in the web site address as she continued to instruct, rapid-fire, jumping from the list she held to reminders that occurred to her as she spoke.

“I better write this stuff down,” I said, opening desk drawers in search of a notepad.

“Oh, while, we’re at it, let me show you where the supplies are.”

I got up and followed her to a tiny office space crammed with a desk, a printer, and shelves of disorganized old and new ink pens, folders, notepads, and boxes of paper clips.

I scribbled, “Check The Daily Whip,” on a note pad as we walked back to my desk. “The Daily Whip” is sent from the office of the “Whip,” the Congress member elected by his colleagues to “whip” folks into shape.

“A Black guy’s the Whip?” I said, proudly remembering much hoopla made about Congressman John Clyburn’s becoming the first Black Majority Whip. Octavia shook her head.

“That’s on the House side,” she said.  “Baby steps.  Two flies in the buttermilk are about all this side can handle. Now, the House side, that’s another story.  We finally got a little pull over there.”

I nodded, staring at the screen.  I told her I wrote an article about the CBC last year.  “Congressional Black Caucus members chairing four of the main committees,” I said. “About to have a Black president, too. I’m going to volunteer over at the DNC…”

She said I wouldn’t have time for that.

“This right here is not a job, it’s a way of life,” she said.

  • Describe a time (a year, or a period in your life) where you spent most of your time on your career. Did your relationships with family and friends suffer?
  • Were your professional accomplishments worth the sacrifices to your personal relationships? Explain your answer. (For instance, I lost my husband but I helped find a cure for cancer.)
  • Describe your work-life balance, or one you would be happy with. (For instance, your balance is grinding eight hours a day, five days a week, then spending evenings and weekends with your family; or it may be grinding round-the-clock nine months of the year, vacationing with your family for three month; or it may be an understanding you have that you will grind for 30 years in your career, then retire from full-time grinding and work projects at your leisure.)
  • What is your plan for a better work-life balance? (If you are happy with the balance you have, could you better communicate this to your family and friends who may need a better understanding?

 

#CrisisRecovery

 

January 2010

It crashed.  Just like that, it crashed.  Now I see why you never would ride the subway, why you never did trust “them new-fangled things,” as you put it.  But I am glad you were there to help me out of it, especially since there was no warning, no hint, not the slightest indication that we were in trouble.

As usual, there was a line at all the fare card machines.  As usual, we got bottlenecked at the gate.  The platform was crowded, as usual, but everyone was civil. I blended into the crowd of mostly government workers, dressed in coats, weighed down with briefcases or large purses with folders stuffed inside.  I got on, found a seat and, as usual, plugged in my iPod.  Come to think of it, there was static, unusual static, in my iPod. That seemed weird because iPod’s don’t get static.  G-Ma was that you tinkering with my iPod, making it skip between songs to keep me from dozing off as I usually do o the subway?

I’m glad you were there.  I’m glad you are here.

“Break the window Ruqiyah.” You were loud and clear through all the screams and desperate gasps for last breaths. I heard the screech and the metal crunching – and your voice.  “Break the window Ruqiyah. Kick the glass. Get out.” You always were calm even in the midst of madness.

I didn’t think I could break a window so thick and tight, but you convinced me.  “Kick through the window and go.”  It worked.  I shattered a window. Your voice was diamond hard, crystal clear.

“Save yourself Ruqiyah.”

But that was confusing coming from you.  When you were alive, it was never about just me.  It was never about one person.  Even when I was eight and you taught me how to play Chinese Checkers instead of regular Checkers, which we played at school, you would say, “Ruqiyah Charity Paige, as you go through this life, you’ve got to get ahead not just by yourself, and not just for yourself.” That was the first thing that came to mind when I saw all the other people trapped in the wreck today. It would have taken just a few minutes to help the woman trying to pull her baby through the window opening.  Maybe I couldn’t help the old man mangled in his wheelchair underneath so much rubble, but it would’ve taken just a minute to reach out and pull the young man who was already halfway through.  But your instruction was clear.

“Save yourself,” you said. I heard you. Not like a loud voice booming down from the clouds, not even a still small voice on the inside. It was a simple knowing, an awareness. Now what?  You seemed to be walking beside me as I made my way home.  I must’ve looked crazy – coat ripped and disheveled, hair a frazzled mess, clutching my purse as if my life depended on it. I thought about a lot of things you taught me.  I thought about some of our last conversations before you died.  I remembered you telling me you hoped I would learn one lesson, and learn it soon, in order to be better and do better. You said this one lesson would help me on my job and help me know exactly when it was time to leave.  All those self-help, pop-psychology books I’ve been reading the past fifteen years were useful and fun, but life really was simple, you said.

Was it just a coincidence that each traffic light turned green as I reached the curb?  You knew I was too dazed to stop for a red light, right? G-Ma, why didn’t you reach me before the wreck?  Couldn’t you foresee that the collision was going to happen? Why didn’t you just give me a sign, some warning to take a different train? I’m glad you knew to get my attention through the iPod. I didn’t know you knew about iPods, since that’s one of the things I never got around to teaching you to work. There was a lot we didn’t get to talk about. I wanted to talk to you about the major changes you saw in your 90 years to get a grip on the dizzying changes in my own life. Everything is changing, and changing in the blink of an eye. One minute we’re riding the train. Next thing you know, “Boom!” Smoke, fire, and people screaming for their life. G-Ma, that could’ve been my arms and legs scattered across the field.

I’m sitting in my living room in the dark now.  No TV.  No jazz from the cable station.  Nothing.  I don’t want to see or hear anything.  I need silence. I lit the cinnamon candles. I’ve got the bottle of pineapple rum and a can of Diet Coke on the coffee table. But my hands are still shaking.  I don’t want to get Coke all over the couch and carpet.  Maybe the flicker of the log in the fireplace will me settle down some.  I can usually watch those flames licking the air and forget about things, but I don’t know if I can forget seeing all those body parts at the wreck.

It was awful.  Just like that.  Sc-reeeeeeech, boom, boom, BAM! The stench of heated plastic and burning rubber everywhere.  I still can’t shake the images of the crumpled train cars and the smoke. Bodies blown across the field.  Injured people crawling out of the heap of wreckage. I can’t shake the pictures.  How can a train crash without warning?  I ride it everyday? Nobody could tell it was about to breakdown? I don’t know how many people died, but from the looks of it, a whole lot of families are going to be devastated.

G-Ma, I’m sorry I got too busy to visit you.  The job has been calling my cell since I left the office.  The chief of staff left a few messages saying Madame Senator is trying to reach me.  She probably is just trying to size up the situation. She needs to spin a message to the media to protect the train company since it’s one of her biggest campaign donors.

Victoria’s been calling and leaving messages, too. My sister Trish left a message, too. She heard the news all the way back in my hometown.

“Qi-Qi, I hope to hell you wasn’t on the train that crashed, but if you was, you bout to get pay-aid.  Hey, don’t leave the scene.  If you’re still there, get as close as you can to the crash and lay down on the ground like you cain’t move. Girl, you ‘bout to get paid!  Haaaaaaaay!” she said.  “Use your camera phone and get some pictures to prove you was there, and get somebody else to get some pictures of you stretched out. Lay your ass on the ground and play half dead till the police get there. Hell, even if you wasn’t on the train, you ride it everyday.  Just take your ass to the hospital and say you got injured on that train that crashed.  You deserve to get paid, girl. Girl this is your time.  Like Joel Osteen says.  This is our time. Get paid girl. Let me know you okay.   Call me.”

Chris is coming over even though I told him I’d rather be alone. I need time to think about what I want to do next.

God must’ve had a reason for sparing my life, right? G-Ma, I know I’m lucky to be alive. I’m going to take a few days to think about where I’ve been and how I want to go on from here. My hands are still trembling. I can hear you humming, “we’ll understand it all by and by.” I’ll figure this one out myself.

 

  • Who do you call in your moment of crisis?
  • Describe your last crisis and explain your first prayers/calls?
  • Would you repeat your actions in the next crisis? If you can respond better, tell how. If you’re satisfied with your armor and plan of action, explain why.