#WhoAreYou

 

Michelle introduced me and told everyone to tell something about themselves besides just their name. I couldn’t take my eyes off Billy, who was settled back into the couch with one foot crossed over his knee, pen in hand, yellow legal pad balanced on his knee. He was well-bred white, but rugged, some kind of city-cool. Brown, curly hair, yellow polo shirt, jeans and black loafers. He was wearing a suit jacket when I saw him before the meeting, but looked even more attractive without it.

“I’ve been with Madame Senator five years. I love helping the constituents who call in asking Madame Senator to show up at their event to attract the media will, or to write a letter for their event souvenir programs to lend legitimacy,” Sandra said. “I’m just here for the people,” she concluded. “That lady’s got no respect for me and if she comes at me one more…”

“Ok. I think R.C. gets it,” Michelle interrupted. When I met her a couple years ago through my little brother, I told her I was proud that she was rising through the ranks in the office of a woman I admired much. She had shrugged off the compliment, and now, watching how calm and confident she is, I’m even more proud of her. I noticed the trinkets on her desk as I walked past this morning – a ceramic plaque that reads: “When the prayers go up, the blessings come down,” a figurine of a church-dressed woman lifting her hands in praise, and a flowing plant.

“No. Let me tell this poor woman what she’s gotten herself into. She might as well know up front…” Sandra continued.

“We don’t want to chase her away. You know how hard it was to get somebody to take that job. Now, hush it up,” Michelle said, making others giggle.

“R.C. welcome. I’m Garrett. I worked as a construction site manager out in Arizona before I came here. My friend owned the company, needed a manager and told me to wing it. I did for a while, then hitch-hiked across country looking for a new adventure, wound up in the nation’s capital, needed a job, and ended up here,” a short, White guy with shiny black hair and an infectious smile said. His wrinkled button up blue shirt, faded, wrinkled black khakis, and scuffed brown shoes said he just didn’t give a damn. He rode to work on a bike this morning. Came in wearing tennis shoes, carrying a bag and a helmet. Hung his suit jacket on the coat rack.

“Garrett, you had done some impressive work with the ex-offender population and in the courts system back in Arizona. Don’t make it sound like you were some clown we just picked up,” Michelle said. “Tell her what your G.P.A. was all through college.”

Billy told how he worked as a bartender after college, decided to go to law school, and then landed a job working for a City Councilwoman in the District of Columbia. After his boss lost her re-election bid, he applied for the Legislative Director opening in Senator Jackson’s office, and he’s been here two years. He said he didn’t know anything about Jackson’s state, the tiny state of Vas Calucca, in the mid-west, when he started, but now he knows too much.

“Billy helped draft the legislation to build our new world-class shopping mall, the first mall ever funded by and benefiting private investors and taxpayers,” Michelle said. “Madame Senator hires only the best, R.C., and we’re happy you’ve joined the pack.”

“Glad to be here. Looks like exciting work,” I said. “I am a Vas C. native. I’ve admired Madame Senator since before she was elected to Congress. Of course I voted for her, too, to become the second African American woman in the Senate. Working with her will give me an opportunity to offer more support of her work…”

“Girl please. You’re not on an interview. You got the job,” Michelle interrupted. “Tell them about you!”

I laughed, glad she broke the ice.

“I like writing, love writing. Looking forward to helping Madame Senator get her message out. I worked for her before in her District office, as some of you know. But I here The Hill is a little different…”

“Understatement!” one of the guys yelled from the District Office.

I chuckled and continued. “I did some reporting and managed a small newspaper back home and one up here…”

“R.C. is also a playwright,” Michelle interrupted again. “She wrote that play Till We Meet Again, back home. We are happy to have her. Madam Senator’s quite impressed with her work, and I know her work ethic ‘cause I’ve seen her do her thing over the years.”

“A playwright? Oh, yippie. What we have here is a tragedy of Shakesperian proportions,” one of the guys said through the speakerphone. “Mid-west colony denied basic human rights, used as scientific testing site…”

“O.k. you’re about to get cut off,” Michelle said.

  1. Think fast! In one word describe yourself.
  2. In the next few days ask three to five of your friends to describe you in one word. Did one word come up more than once? Do you agree with your friends’ characterization of you?
  3. Would you like to change the first word that comes to mind when describing you? Why/why not?
Advertisements

#DontLoseYourself

 

A few staffers walked in with piping hot cups of coffee this morning. I went to the water cooler and filled the bottle I’d brought in. There was a coffee pot caked with dust, a pile of dishes in the sink, a small refrigerator, and a bag of half eaten chips folded and tucked away in the office kitchen. By nine-fifteen the office was bright and noisy with phones ringing, keyboards clicking, TV’s blaring and the front door opening and slamming shut.

“You can bring your lunch, but you won’t want to use the microwave,” Nia said. “It’s nasty.”

“Come on pee-pole. You all know what time it is,” I heard yet another voice yell.

“Grab your note pad,” Octavia said.

I followed her into Madame Senator’s office for the staff meeting, where I was introduced to everyone. The chief of staff, Michelle, strutted in wearing a sundress and flip-flops! Her hair is died deep burgundy and twisted in neat braids wrapped in a bun at the back. Sandra, the scheduler/executive assistant, had on tan slacks and a cool tangerine summer top, and Sylvia, in charge of responding to letters Madame Senator gets from residents, was flaunting crazy nails, and eyelash extensions. Unabashedly ethnic! Ghetto-fabulous! I loved it! It was like the Hood on the Hill in our office. Only two out of the seventeen of us were White, and everybody was on top of their game.

  1. How do you express/maintain your uniqueness?
  2. Are you more of a comformist ( inclined to fit in and go along with the program) or a creationist (inclined to look for a new way of doing things?) Explain.
  3. When/how did you realize you are more of a comformist or creationist?
  4.  

#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?