Food for Thought
Balance and other Challenges
The challenges of the working world have been known to bring about serious personality changes in many of those who make the transition from student life to a rather different life as members of the workforce. Dealing with bizarre bosses, complex organisational cultures, psychotic subordinates, deviant peers and (for some people) just getting up in the morning and going to work, can require major adjustments. It can mean digging deep into hitherto untapped resources just to get through the day - depending on the day in question, of course. And that's without even taking into account those (seemingly far from exceptional) individuals who manage to develop full-blown personality disorders in the transition process!
On this particular issue, I have to admit that I speak from personal experience (of personality change, mind you, not disorder - a subtle but important distinction). In the space of a few weeks, I went from being an alarmingly laid-back student, who only ever engaged in frenzied studying during the fortnight immediately before each set of annual exams, to a regimented workaholic, who thought that weekends were a waste of time. My poor parents were torn between a sense of relief that their strangely relaxed daughter had been transformed into a paragon of responsibility, to a nagging sense of worry that I had lost it altogether, to a nightmarish conviction that the invasion of the body snatchers had finally taken place.
Indeed, for the first few years of my career, I managed to lock myself into such an insane schedule, that I effectively made sure that I had no life - no hobbies or pastimes, not much of a social life, and hardly any friends to speak of (they had all given up waiting for me to "find" some free time). This was brought home to me only too well when a change of job suddenly meant that I had a two-day weekend; I found myself increasingly restless and anxious on the second day, because I had no idea what to do with ALL that time! This, mind you, at a time when I was already holding down two jobs (development worker by day, translator by night)…
Yes, the working world has its challenges - some that we are born to experience (free office lunches), others that we achieve (the occasional promotion), and yet others that are thrust upon us (watch this space…) And in the latter category, I must add that, however unpleasant they may be, one must learn to differentiate between standard challenges and extraordinary ones - you'll know the difference when you come across them, I promise!
One of the most common yet highly troublesome situations that crops up in the "standard" category relates to linguistic errors, particularly those of grammar and spelling. These can be the result of minor additions or subtractions, which make all the difference - as one of my friends recently experienced when she was sending out a letter in which she referred to an ex-Secretary of the Government of Bangladesh. Somehow she managed to add an unwanted and potentially explosive “s” as the first letter of the ex-Secretary's title, changing his designation to a rather more suggestive (and for some, titillating) one!
Fortunately for her, although the letter was approved and signed by her superiors, she spotted the error before dispatching it to the gentleman in question. Alas, the same could not be said of the new typist employed alongside another friend of mine in the Department of Public Health in the UK. This unfortunate creature spent a fortnight sending out letters in the name of her boss, the Director of Public Health, having unfortunately dropped the “l” in "Public"…!
In general, I have found that jobs which involve intensive (or intense) contact with people tend to be the most demanding (for the person doing them) and entertaining (for others). That was certainly the case in one of the positions I held, where part of the job consisted of interacting with international visitors. So on one occasion I spent a couple of days trying to figure out why an otherwise pleasant Sudanese woman insisted on wearing long white lace gloves, that stretched from the fingertips to well past the elbow.
It was some time before she trusted me enough to deliver the explanation, in a suitably low and conspiratorial voice, "Before coming here, I didn't know whether Bangladesh was a proper Muslim country. Do you know that in some countries Muslims actually shake hands with women? And some Muslim women, only bad ones of course, shake hands with men! I find it shocking, that's why I decided that I would wear gloves, in case anyone expected me to shake hands with men - I'm not going to let them touch my skin!" And all this, during the height of a boiling Bangladeshi summer, when I wasn't the only one wondering why on earth she was wearing gloves…
Another high maintenance visitor was a charming lady from the Philippines, who clearly came from a very wealthy family. Unsurprisingly, this meant I faced some additional challenges during a field trip with her in southern Patuakhali. For one thing, she hated curry, or any other spicy food. This was problematic, to say the least, in rural Bangladesh! On top of that, she refused to eat fish in any form, or any vegetable that she was not familiar with i.e. pretty much everything that was offered to us in Patuakhali.
As she very sweetly informed me, at home they had a chef who had to submit weekly dinner plans, where he was not allowed to repeat any except their most favourite meals more than once a month! Under the circumstances, it must have been quite a culinary culture shock for her to survive the field trip subsisting on (secret) tins of sausages and beans that she had fortunately brought along for just such an eventuality...
But of course for every unforeseen challenge, there are those individuals who choose to work in sectors such as teaching, where they frequently deal with people (other teachers, students and their parents), which invariably means that the challenge factor is high . I recently heard from a friend of mine, teaching in an International School elsewhere in Asia, who was given the unenviable task of explaining to a class of pubescent girls what they should expect in terms of biological changes over the next couple of years. As she put it, the girls were on the one hand surprisingly mature about the whole thing, but then felt compelled to reveal everything she didn't want to know about their experiences in this regard.
Their comments ranged from the assertive ("I have already started, Miss"), to the not-quite-relevant ("My sister has started, Miss") to the downright confusing ("I have kind of started, Miss"). To make matters worse, the discussion apparently resulted in some distress for one Indian student who was not only the youngest in the class, but had apparently been given no advance information on these issues by her parents. All in all, my friend had her hands full. So for anyone having a bad career day, one should at least draw consolation from the fact that most of us don't have to discuss bodily substances with a class of 13 to 14 year olds…!
(Note: in the spirit of the Eid festivities, the second part of the article on the arrest of Radovan Karadzic will be published next week)
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