Monday, July 9, 2012

Work/Life customer service?

When I tell someone, "The library is closing," what I really mean is "I will do just about anything short of setting your hair on fire to get you out of here faster."

Well, maybe not. But it certainly means, "I have a life outside of work that I'm desperate to get to, and you're the last thing possibly standing in my way." It just needs to be said politely, and with a smile.
Only a few of my jobs have actually been "customer service" type jobs, and this is by far the longest running. And you know what? I hate it. It's not even rude customers (or in this case, "patrons") who bother me so much. Thankfully, those seem to be few and far between and I've managed them so well that when they've left, through the window in her office my boss has mouthed, "Good job!" and given me a thumbs-up. They never realize that her door is open, they're standing two feet from it, and she can hear exactly how rude they're being.
What I hate the most about customer service jobs is the fact that I have to be at the whim of other people, constantly. I was talking to a friend the other night about wishing I could find a job that would fit itself around my life, rather than having to fit my life around my job. "That's the dream, anyway," I concluded and she laughed a little bit. "Yeah, that would be nice."
I'm never going to find that in a customer service job. I can't work from home, and I have to be on a set schedule, because we have to be there just in case someone decides to come in that day. And my boss, who is wonderful in many ways, panics at the idea that we might not be available to serve everyone who might possibly need us, at any moment. I don't know what sort of library-related emergencies she thinks people will have--perhaps someone pounding on the doors in the middle of the night screaming their need for the "Journal of Experimental Brain Research". (Yes, it's a real journal and yes, it makes me giggle to myself every time I see it.) Despite drastically falling numbers of people who come into the library, thanks to the world wide web and many of the resources we have available there, it took me and my coworker two years to convince her that we didn't need to be open on Sundays when school is not in session. Having to work a few Sundays last summer, and having not a single person come in, sucked.
So what's a person to do? Is it possible to find a bit of work/life balance within a customer service job? Or do I just have to get a different job altogether to try to find that? It's something I've been asking myself a lot lately. I've known for a long while that I didn't want to make working in the library my career (I know people who've worked there for 30 years, and the thought makes me cringe inside) but I'm not sure what I want to replace it with. In fact, I'm not sure I want "a career" at all. To say you have a career implies a love of what you do, yes, but also that you're totally content to be working steadily along some path and toward some ambition. I'm not sure I'm that kind of person. I don't seem to have an ambition, beyond saving enough money that I can live comfortably without needing to work anymore. I think that, like the guy in the movie "Office Space", I might not ever be totally happy in my job. Most people aren't, are they? Even among people who are happy in their profession, they tend to have some sort of "dream" job they'd give up their current money and power to get if it wasn't for...whatever circumstance they feel is holding them back.
I'm sure there's a lesson in there about going for your dreams no matter what, but I'm not going to touch it. It's already been said way too many times.
Of course, there are always nagging doubts. If I get another job, there's no guarantee that I'd find something that would suit me better. Might as well stay where I am, bored but comfortable, right? I'm trying to push those doubts away, to figure out what I want. I have to work, there's no question of that. At least for now. I wrote up a list for Shane of the pros and cons if I got a part-time job. (I had a specific one in mind.) The list of cons was way shorter than the list of pros, but it had what felt to me like the biggest obstacle. The loss of money. When I calculated it all out, it would have meant a loss of almost half my take-home pay, and probably a loss of benefits too. So I didn't apply for it. It's a mercenary decision, but I don't feel bad about it simply because we are young, we're recovering from one partner's joblessness, and we have goals that we're working toward. I decided that our mutual goals, and our long-term happiness, are more important to me than my immediate happiness, at least where work is concerned. If I was unhappy in any other part of my life, making my work life happier might shoot up in my list of priorities. As it is, every other part of my life rocks. Which sort of works to make the contrast between being unhappy at work and being happy everywhere else greater, and thus I'm even less content at work. Awesome, right?
I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who would say, "Screw the money, do what makes you happy!" And a lot of people will tell you, from the comfort of the homes they own, surrounded by the cars and all the other things that money can buy, that money can't buy happiness, and dreams are worth so much more, etc., etc. Well, I already said that I don't seem to have a real dream in terms of a "career" but I do have dreams, modest dreams, about what kind of life I'd like to have. The life that Shane and I want to live together. Some of those dreams (like buying or building a house) involve money. So for now, I've moved "part-time work" into the "someday" file in my head. Now I just need to remember to take that file out and evaluate it once every year or two.

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