Please Leave Me Alone Unicef

How do I write this blog without coming off as a complete jerk?  This is basically a rant about donor fatigue.  I hadn’t realized June was hit-up-everyone-on-earth month for starving children, uneducated children, children needing Bible studies, mother’s against drunk drivers, mother’s against pedophiles, mother’s against pedophilic drunk drivers, people with cancer, people with MS, people with diabetes, 15 people with an incredibly rare disorder that no one can pronounce,  a foundation that gives free books to poor people, a foundation that gives free shelter to poor people, a foundation that gives free food to poor people, a foundation that gives free manicures and pedicures to poor people.  This month I’ve had four fundraising drives come to my door, three robocalls, not to mention the cashier at the Safeway, the Co-op and Old Navy that asked in front of the attentive ears of people lined up behind me if I wanted to donate.  I felt like an asshole every time I said no.   At this point, I’ve begrudgingly accepted my fate as the lady-who-won’t-donate-to-save-poor-orphans-in-a-country-no-one-has-heard-of-until-it-hit-the-news-last-month.

I do donate.  Not the hearty 10% of our income stipulated by tithe.  We opted to insert money into the kids’ RESP (registered education savings plan) because we don’t want our kids to be a charity case when a Bachelor’s degree costs $1,000,000 in the future.  Also, I bought a really comfy swinging basket chair that someone in India weaved together.  We send a few thousand a year to whatever charity tugs our heart strings or to the fundraising page of one of our family, friends or coworkers that could totally afford to donate their fundraising goal but are blackmailing themselves into running, walking or biking to their ideal weight.   I, infrequently volunteer in my community or for an organization whenever I am called to do so but I volunteer full time raising my children.  Yes, I volunteer.  No one is forced into being a parent – just ask deadbeat moms and dads.  My priorities don’t play well on social media.  LinkedIn tells me future employers more readily hire people who list their volunteerism or ’causes.’  Polishing your brand entails a sheen of non-profit or at least a few stretched contributions in that direction.  Hell, I can play that game too.  I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity for one whole day painting a play house they were auctioning off back in 2002.  I guess that means I now volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.  Who’s going to check attendance?

I’m tired of the barrage.  I can’t approach a street corner without some idealistic twenty year old giving me their most toothy grin and expounding on the virtues of goats or water wells or microloans in third world countries.  I can’t go to the grocery store without the cashier plugging for the corporation’s charity of the month.  Even purchasing a $20 soccer ball I am asked by the cashier to fund youth sports for the disadvantaged. Do I give 10% of my purchase price?  20%?  That would be  a lame $4.  Or do I give them $20 because that seems like a half decent donation amount.  That means my soccer ball just cost me $40.  If I keep this up, I won’t be able to afford the new swimsuit I so desperately need.  Should I forget swimming altogether (cause saggy swimsuits with no elastic support are so not cool – you know who you are) so I can give some poor disadvantaged youth the $80 instead?  I’ll get fat and unhealthy but at least I’ll have given some kid the chance to run around in a shiny new jersey instead of running around in a cotton shirt.   Hell, I can’t even get drunk anymore without a guilt trip.  All the outings with friends seem to involve charity balls or a fundraising event that someone scored free tickets.  No one scores free tickets to a fundraiser.  They are handed out like candy and you arrive to not dinner but hors d’oeuvres that run out in the first ten minutes and then you’re paying $15 for a glass of boxed red.  They get everyone liquored up on empty stomachs and suddenly you’re bidding $500 on a Fitbit.  The next morning you feel dirty and used except you didn’t get laid just f**ked.

Having school age children opens up a whole universe of fundraising activities.  They send leaflet after leaflet asking to please sign up for  meat orders, chocolate orders, Christmas plant orders, spring plant orders, coupon books (which I forget to use), book orders, frozen cookie dough orders and any other business scheme that relies entirely on school fundraisers to turn a profit.  I would happily write the school a check that would be equitable to all the money I spend on fundraisers our family is socially pressured to commit.  We’d unfortunately cut out the middle man economy which I suspect employs thousands of people.  When I lost my job and I was attending career transition meetings with similarly forlorn people, the coaches kept telling us uplifting stories of people who had found their true calling in the non profit sector.  I kept thinking it was strange there was a large employment sector for non-profits.  I’m still trying to find a job in the pillage-the-earth for-profit oil and gas industry so I guess I’m the fool.

Now what?  Well, if you’d kindly donate to my blog I can sustain myself on Oreo cookies and Cheetos so I can continue to write these pithy and astute essays.  You can feel oh so good knowing you helped support a starving writer or at least a writer starving for unhealthy snacks.  Or, I can just forego the snacks.  It’s up to you.






Everyone is an Entrepreneur

I’ve been unemployed 6 1/2 months now.  I am a petroleum geologist in Calgary, Alberta.  Just about the worst place in the world to be any kind of geologist.  Brent pricing is hovering above $45  but damn, that makes 90% of oil pools in Alberta uneconomic to drill or produce right now.  Which means, me and most of my friends get to keep wearing jeans every day and figure out how to cheaply replace our broken appliances.

Unemployment has interesting stages of evolution, much like grief:

  1. Denial and Isolation:  Shit I Can’t Believe I just Got Laid Off.
  2. Anger:  Those Fuckers.
  3. Bargaining:  If Only I Had Never Worn Those Mustard Yellow Pants To Work.
  4. Depression:  I Suck.  No One Will Ever Hire Me Again.
  5. Acceptance: Well, It Happens.  Time to Focus On My Job Search.

Everyone hits acceptance at different times but there is a #6 & #7 for the unemployed.

6. Networking:  Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me

This essentially becomes a mind numbing task after the 78th coffee date.  How many times can you possibly explain why you were laid off versus the bitch giving the boss blow jobs?  Except you don’t say that because then you come off as being bitter.  Instead, you are super duper happy with all this extra time off to worry about broken appliances and to refocus on your strengths like binge watching The Walking Dead.  And it starts feeling slutty always maneuvering to get the other person to buy you a coffee.  You even try to scam a lunch now and then by pausing awkwardly when the waitress asks if you both want one bill or two.

7. Everyone is an Entrepreneur:  There Are No Jobs In My Profession.  Oh Shit.

This is the what we like to call the climax.  The protagonist has exhausted all options and in a fit of drunken hope, decides that all those heart to hearts with her pals means she has an unfulfilled calling as a life coach!   She abandons her soul crushing career as a corporate engineer and starts life anew with a new website, a full calendar of speaking engagements and a self stylized BRAND that incorporates her love of mauve, hot yoga, and an organic pomegranate cream that she uses religiously.

#7 looks great on the movie screen but in the real world it means everyone changes their current career status to CEO of their newly incorporated business on LinkedIn.  And then  they go network some more with their newly conceptualized BRAND and wait and wait and wait for something great to happen.  I’m always shocked to discover how much thought went into BRANDing themselves and how poorly conceived their business models are.  No one seemingly wants to actually make anything.  They want to be facilitators, motivators and other ‘ors’ that essentially make them overpaid middlemen.  I wish them luck.

I’m looking for a job as a geologist.  I’m good at it, I love it and the world needs oil.  This means I have to stay calm and wait.  And maybe work at Safeway as a clerk to make money until the oil prices turn around.  But I have no delusions about where my worth lies.  I find oil and I make money for shareholders.  I find oil that keeps us awash in plastics and fuels the machines.  I find the oil that provides government revenue  for schools and hospitals.  The world keeps turning and I will keep turning with it.


How HR Destroyed the World

If you’ve ever held a job in a corporation you will understand color discrimination.  I’m not talking about the racial stereotyping of skin color.  I’m talking about discrimination in the  color wheel spectrum: yellow, red, green, and blue.   Yes, you there, the one who took the Myers-Briggs or The Birkman Method or some other official sounding personality test they sprung on you before they  would agree to hire you or just before they decided on a round of layoffs or the one they proffered before beginning your career transitioning services, parlance for professional grief counseling.

The origin of these tests were based on subjective clinical observation and not based on controlled scientific studies.  The personalities, parsed down to four from 16-32 depending on the origin of the psychological underpinning, assume the administrator of the test has adequately identified the major archetypes in a specific job category.  Which brings us to problem #2:  the idea a person’s personality is static.  Environment provides a contextual backing for one’s perceptions and reactions.  I was a much happier and outgoing ‘blue’ person at my last job than two jobs ago when I was micromanaged by the CEO’s son who had just graduated from university.  They also stuck me in a small office with no windows that was a converted supply room.  At that time I was an introverted ‘green’ person that avoided social situations and felt hostile towards authority.

The ubiquity of personality tests and the people who have taken them is evident in people’s introductions:  “I am a predominately blue person with yellow tendencies but in reality I’m actually an introvert masking as an extrovert.”  Uh?  The last test I took started with: “You are a complex and unique individual….”  but the results were computer generated so I suspect the algorithm thinks all humans are complex and unique.  In the end I was unable to decipher the major differences in character traits of the different color codes.  There were a whole lot of adjectives that seemed as easily applicable to a puppy or a carrot.  Easily approachable, check.  Easily consumed, check.

In modern corporate speak, quantifying a person’s value is a good thing.  It takes out bias and it attributes value to departments like I.T. or H.R. that support professionals with working computers and a biweekly payroll deposit.  For big corporations with hundreds or thousands of people, there is almost always a formal procedure for determining bonuses and pay raises.  It is usually a calculation based on performance evaluations from coworkers and/or managers in addition to a corporate target that either augments or negates the individual’s contributions.  But personality tests fall into a dangerous realm not only because the user’s answers are subjective and easily manipulated by mood but because the person holding the results, who often are not trained psychologists but HR personnel with certificates in office administration, apply judgement with impunity.   In a perfect world an industrial psychologist would take the results and use them in conjunction with other reporting methods to determine if there are significant behaviours that could impede performance.  In the same way, under Canadian Alberta employment law a person cannot be dismissed for being an alcoholic, to avoid any chance of litigation, proactive steps would need to be taken to provide counseling or  training to the employee.

Recently, I had coffee with a friend who had survived multiple rounds of layoffs at a struggling oil & gas company.  Shortly before one layoff, after three years in which half the work force had been laid off, personality tests were administered.  As coworkers are apt to do, people had divulged their color coding.  My friend made the observation, anecdotal but nonetheless disturbing, that all the people dismissed  were from the green group.  One should question the necessity of any personality test before layoffs for the reasons mentioned above.   In this scenario, after the fatigue of multiple sorting and ranking of personnel, it would seem HR fell back on plain and simple color discrimination.

Next time I am trapped in a networking event and I am asked which color I belong to, I will plant my feet squarely, look him or her in the eye and say “I’m a goddamn rainbow.”  Refuse to be boxed into a category.  Be as complex and unique as you need to be because if we don’t insist on our individuality, we become manufactured personas.  I think humanity deserves better if not only for the simple enjoyment of better coffee companions.

Fake It Till You Make It

Two nights ago I found myself sitting in a cramped room surrounded by new Canadians, a few uncomfortable white people that were likely bullied as children and myself.  What are new Canadians you ask?  Anyone who has a work visa, permanent residency or citizenship but were born in other countries.  Aside from the original native inhabitants, this is everyone’s backstory in Canada, give or take 1 to 5 degrees of generational separation and even then you could argue the original native inhabitants took a land route to get here instead of air or water like everyone else.  I’m pretty sure the moose, bear and beaver think this land mass belongs to them too.  Migration: the ultimate usurper of neighbourhood demographics.

This congregation of the marginalized were gathered to listen to two guest speakers illuminate them on how to tweak one’s personality to become more employable. I was there on a whim, having been pimped to volunteer for an organization that would bolster my network and volunteering creds on LinkedIn.  Except, not knowing what kind of organization I was being pimped to, I opted instead to go to one of their monthly events.

Which is how I found myself seated in a cramped room, holding Tim Hortons coffee and munching on the $10 ‘refreshments’ piece of pizza that was on offer before the speakers began.  They even charged the volunteers $10 for refreshments, which seemed to take away any perks that I could perceive in the whole endeavour.

The first speaker got up,  a white, tall and balding middle aged man who promoted his books on Canadian workplace etiquette and behaviours for new Canadians.  His revelation, heavily recycled from the playbook of Dale Carnegie and rebranded as ’emotional intelligence’, was that one should display empathy by learning to listen more and talk less. Unfortunately, he decided to acronym ’emotional intelligence’ to E.I. throughout his presentation.  I’m not sure how much emotional intelligence was involved in unconscious linking with employment insurance  but it may explain why he got a wine bottle stopper as a speaker’s fee.

The second speaker, a white, middle aged woman, stressed the importance of overcoming major personality pitfalls using personality tests and practiced self awareness. As her hands trembled holding her notes, discomfort evident in every jerky gesture, she kept repeating, “Look at me, you would never know I’m an introvert because I’ve taught myself to behave as an extrovert.  You gotta fake it till you make it.”  This mantra, repeated many, many times, seemed to help remind her she wasn’t painfully introverted and that yes, she could make a living giving inspirational talks.  She also received a wine bottle stopper.

I cringe to think what social mores these events impress upon new Canadians or any of the struggling unemployed.  What if you are an impressionable new graduate or you sit somewhere on the Asperger spectrum?  What if you simply hate people?  Can crib notes on NHL hockey teams, The Walking Dead and the 2016 Oscar nominees  help you make friends around the water cooler?  Are your  water cooler friends going to make you a more happier and fulfilled person or will you come to dread the Academy Awards and the 4 hour telecast you have to sit through just so you can partake in the post Oscar chatter?

I go for lunch on occasion with three ex-colleagues.  One is a Syrian, one is Pakistani and the third is Chinese – all new Canadians.  I am fourth generation Polish-Ukrainian with a dollop of German and Irish thrown in for good measure.  We sit around laughing, immersing ourselves in the amusing quirkiness of our camaraderie.  We are, I believe, the quintessential Canadians:  accepting, humorous, and embracing of the new and interesting.   You don’t need to fake being Canadian.  You are Canadian by virtue of your arrival.  By stepping foot on this northern land, leaving the historical burdens, economic hardships and oppressive regimes of your birth country,  you demonstrate kinship to all the wearied travellers that found their way home to Canada.  It is the diversity and individuality of people in our workplace that should be promoted, not some jingoistic version of The Office.



Why LinkedIn Makes Me Depressed

I finally joined LinkedIn.  This was something of a hurdle for me because I have cyberagoraphobia.   This is my best approximation of the fear of having a public profile in cyberspace.  Wikipedia says agoraphobia is, “characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be dangerous, uncomfortable, or unsafe” and this can include “uncontrollable social situations.”  Bingo.  This is ironic for someone who is admittedly a social butterfly.  More like a bonobo actually, minus the promiscuous sexual behaviour. Bonobos tend to be more peace loving than their chimpanzee cousins because females in particular use sex as a form of greeting, reconciliation and resolution.  I’m not sure about Ibiza but in Calgary, monogamy and the traditional duality of marriage frowns on orgies as a means to get along.   My go to social lubricant is good conversation with sincere praise thrown in for good measure; if that fails, a beer and feigned interest in the Montreal Canadiens’ home game.

I don’t have a Facebook account for the same reason.  I had nightmares about declining friend requests, afraid of the perceived slights that I would inflict on the second cousin of the girl I met at my friend’s party.  Or  conversely, the people who might quietly ignore my request for friendship.  What do you mean the guy at the 7-Eleven, who knows my favourite slurpee flavour, doesn’t want to be my friend?  The whole system seemed fraught  with the fragile anticipations built into every ‘connect’ and ‘thumbs up’.   We are like stocks on a grand social exchange, the numbers of subscribers to your follies and thoughts a direct collate to your value.

Which brings me to the ultimate depressed state – LinkedIn subscription.  Unlike your friends and family, who watch your links to TED talks and chuckle at your smarmy selfie taken in new black thick rimmed glasses (thanks Elvis Costello), the connections in LinkedIn are considered your lifelines to employment.  This is supposedly your ticket to the ultimate AlphaPhiCappa club, a secret fraternity of the elite and connected that will grace you with a window into their network.  Except, really, it isn’t.  It is an exceptionally easy tool for recruiters to find unemployed professionals and to make money pimping them to companies.  Yeah, sure, you connect with old colleagues, agree to go for coffee to commiserate or just to practice the one-upmanship of comparing the status of your kids.  But, really, you are hoping for a pimp to show up and give you some hope that you’re resume is attractive enough to justify the fee.  Unless, it’s not and you’re the dirty whore that will do you-know-what (Walmart greeter anyone?) for an embarrassingly low salary.  Welcome to the land of the down and out.

My sister sent me an email a few weeks ago notifying me that our parents had joined LinkedIn.  This was before I had joined.  My mother had described herself as, “poet, reviewer, dramatist, short story writer–“, while my father summed up his in a single word, “cogitator”.   They are lovely people and I suspect a lot more interesting than myself but as a cruel footnote to my emerging cyber alter ego, I pray to God they never attempt to connect to me.  It would be the equivalent of having your Mom or Dad hold your hand as they walk you to work.  The whole point is who you know and anyone scrolling through my network will wonder why I’m connected to a cogitator and a dramatist.  Already, my transformation has begun as I scramble to raise my online value.  As I expose my underbelly to the cyber web, I pray that it does not devour me.

Networking Hell

Last night we went to the theatre to watch “The Big Lebowski.” Jeff Bridges plays Jeff Lebowski, a.k.a. The Dude, a pot smoking underachiever who undergoes a series of misadventures with no discernible gain at the conclusion except for the simple refrain “The Dude abides.”  What does that mean?  It the land of narcissists, sociopaths, whores and overachievers (set in Los Angeles 1998), the Dude is content to float along with the ebb and flow of the universe.

It was a sold out show, with White Russians for sale in the lobby, a throng of bathrobe attired underachievers closeted in a city full of type A overachievers.  I live in Calgary, Alberta – the hub of the oil & gas industry in Canada.   I am a laid off geologist, an admittedly ‘hippy’ profession in an industry heavily laden with engineers and sons of CEOs with MBAs tacked onto their credentials as common as polyester in the 70s. Brent oil pricing decided to dive bomb below $30 which means I’m not going to be working as a geologist anytime soon.

Which brings us back to the Dude and the dichotomy of Calgary’s unemployed.  There are the overachievers and the underachievers.  The overachievers are the networkers.  They co-chair galas and volunteer for organizations with a ‘P’ somewhere in the acronym to signify the ubiquitous ‘petroleum’ which roots the Alberta economy.   They join the Rotary Club to hobnob with the wealthy and connected.  They list all these ‘achievements’ on their resumes or LinkedIn profiles.  They name drop other networkers like Craig or Bob, or Suzanne.  Craig is often an unemployed oil and gas marketer embarking on a career as a life coach and Suzanne is exploring business opportunities in renewables.

I am a closeted underachiever.  I dress my toddler in the next day’s clothes for bedtime.  That way I don’t need to bother getting her dressed in the morning.  If my underarm odour has not permeated my clothes, I wear them another day because I reason I’m saving water and energy washing less clothes.   My idea of networking is going for beer and talking shit about people whom still have jobs but don’t deserve them as much as we do.  I suspect truly successful people are having beer with other successful people.  And not the cheap Pilsner kind of beer.  They’re drinking craft microbrewery beer with undertones of chocolate or apricot.  So, forget networking hell, raise a glass to the Dude, let the winds of change take you wherever they may and don’t be afraid to embark on another misadventure.  Chances are the company you keep will be a lot more interesting.