I finally broke down this morning and filed for unemployment. It’s been three months since I was notified that my contract would not be renewed and I had hoped I would have secured a new job by now. I have some good prospects but for now, the search goes on.
I promised in an earlier blog to talk a little bit about what led up to my release. I’ve waited until now because I didn’t want my words to be fueled by hurt or anger. I finally decided I would rather do it in a positive way and give some advice that might help others who find themselves in similar situations.
Here are my 12 suggestions that might help you survive in the workplace:
Rule #1 Don’t be too good at your job or know too much.
Rule #2 When a superior says, “Don’t Worry” — watch out.
Rule #3 Climbers don’t look down. They don’t have time for you.
Rule #4 Open Door policies can get one slammed in your face.
Rule #5 Keep records and be able to account for everything.
Rule #6 Never feel that your job is secure.
Rule #7 Change isn’t always good but don’t fight it.
Rule #8 Learn to deal with incompetence.
Rule #9 Don’t expect to be treated fairly. Even good people behave badly.
Rule #10 Right doesn’t always win.
Rule #11 Don’t expect rewards for loyalty.
Rule #12 Rules (and policies) are made to be broken (and will be).
Bonus– Rule #13 Work to live, don’t live to work.
Holding a job and being successful at it, isn’t about showing up on time and doing what is expected of you. It’s not about your education or knowledge and expertise. It’s not about your dedication or going the extra mile. Those are all givens. To be successful, you have to be constantly aware of two things: company politics and money. You have to keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground if you want stay aware of what’s really going on behind the scenes.
You, as an employee, are expendable. Simple as that. What makes you important is how you fit into the political and social climate of the workplace and what impact you have on the bottom line.
— I’ll address and explain this set of rules, my experiences and their importance in future blog posts.
Today I do want to explore my Bonus Rule– and I know you’ve heard it before:
RULE #13 WORK TO LIVE, DON’T LIVE TO WORK
It sounds simple enough and yet it is probably the hardest rule to follow. I have always struggled with this, even with jobs that weren’t necessarily in my main field of interest. It is too easy for many of us, to become so vested in our jobs that it’s hard to let it go when we punch out at the end of the day. Unless you own your own business– and even then, you have prioritize what is really important– living a good life and hopefully, sharing it with other people.
Why do we work? To pay bills, provide for families, plan for the future… to live.
Remember that the business doesn’t care about you. Unfortunately, in many cases, neither do employers. You may think they do– but if you step back and look at it clearly, you’ll realize you are there to perform a specific function. You are only one small ingredient in the recipe of success. Being responsible and taking ownership in your job is a wonderful thing. You have to learn to set limits. This is especially difficult when you are doing something you love. When work becomes the only thing, it’s probably time to move on.
I personally have lost years of friendships, family gathering and missed opportunities to experience and enjoy life– either from the necessities of the jobs I’ve held, or by my own drive. You can’t buy back that time.
You may find it necessary to put work first— but at what cost?
That is the most important question.
I was having a conversation with my parents today that bounced from life to travel and politics to education. We don’t talk on the phone often but when we do, we’re usually all over the map as we catch up and try to solve all the world’s problems. After I hung up (Do we still say that with cell phones?), this phrase popped in my head:
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Hill made my class learn the whole poem and recite it, day after day, in class until we all had it memorized and could repeat it by memory on our own. It was the first thing I can recall being asked to memorize and I spent hours at home reciting it from the tattered mimeographed page we’d been given.
Before I looked it up, besides the above phrase, all I could remember was something about a gate and the line, ‘black as the pit from pole to pole’. I’m not even sure I ever knew the title of the poem until now. I just remember Mr. Hill telling us we should live our lives by this. That, we were in charge of our lives and responsible for how we lived.
Mr. Hill was a big, strong African American man teaching elementary school in Florida in the 1970s. I’m sure that, in itself, had its challenges. His larger-than-life presence was enough to scare us at that age and he was the only male teacher I had until middle school. He was both nurturing and warm but he had the ability to scare the bejesus out of you with his intensity. He was also one of the best teachers I had in all my years of public schooling.
I remember he loved math. He taught us well — not to memorize numbers and equations but to understand how and why the equations worked. He made us all feel, no matter how much we struggled, that we could all learn. We were all individuals and our feelings and our experiences mattered. He never treated us like a bunch of bothersome kids he was stuck with for an entire year.
Mr. Hill taught us our subjects and he also related them to life. Which bring me back to the poem.
The poem is William Ernest Hensley’s Invictus. As it turns out, it is not only considered to be one of the best poems ever written by many, it is also considered highly controversial in some circles.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
— William Ernest Hensley
Choosing that poem for fourth graders, is pretty extraordinary by today’s standards. Even though I didn’t understand the whole poem then as I am able to do today, I did understand that last phrase. It has popped into my thoughts repeatedly throughout my life.
Today, we undervalue the importance of true learning in the classroom. Students aren’t taught how to think. We undervalue great teachers that go beyond the rigid curriculum to teach students morals and responsibility. Most of them are gone now.
Today we simply medicate unruly kids that need focus and guidance. We discourage the question why — or any original thought. Individuality is frowned upon. Just do it has replaced how and why we do it. We aren’t relating studies to real life. We definitely aren’t nurturing life-long learners.
That’s not education.
I guess I was lucky.
From the time I first thought about wanting to travel abroad, I wanted to go to Berlin. Of course my problem has always been that because of Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, I wanted to visit 1920-30’s Berlin. Obviously, time travel isn’t possible– but Isherwood’s vivid portrait of the decadent cabaret and underground scene have always spoken to me.
I was more than content to have this opportunity to get a glimpse of this captivating city– with, or without the dark undertones that have marked its history. Even, if it meant six more hours of bus travel to do it.
We started our day by getting on a bus at the port in Warnemunde, Germany for our three hour ride to Berlin. The trip was marked by the beautiful countryside and farmland, a brief bathroom stop and hundreds of wind turbines producing green energy. I think I managed to get in a short nap and I was all set for our tour, Echoes of the Past: Jewish Heritage.
Of the three different tours of Berlin, we thought this one would be the most interesting, considering it would also compliment our visit to Stutthof the previous day. I was also hoping to gain a clearer picture of the current German perspective of World War II.
When we reached Berlin, we stopped to meet our tour guide and he took us to the Reichstag Building first. The Reichstag is the home of the German Parliament. A monstrous building built in the late 1800s, it mysteriously caught fire in 1933 , the same year power was given over to the Nazi party there. Damaged, it was mostly used for military purposes during the war and was a central target of the Red Army during the Battle of Berlin in 1945 for symbolic reasons.
It sat for years in disrepair, was almost torn down and served a variety of uses before being fully renovated in the late 1990s when the parliament returned to its former home.
Then we proceeded to the Brandenburg Gate. One of the most known landmarks in Germany, it was constructed in the 18th century and is considered an important symbol of Germany. It stands at the west center of Berlin.
While the Berlin Wall stood, the gate was isolated and inaccessible. So when the wall fell in 1989, there was much celebration and focus surrounding the site.
The rest of our morning was spent at the Jewish Museum, Berlin. The museum is housed in two buildings and is only accessible by an underground passage from the old Berlin Museum. Designed by architect, Daniel Libeskind, the museum zig-zags though spaces, including vast voids, housing permanent and special exhibitions of German-Jewish history. There are three particularly large spaces, representing the Holocaust, that are meant to be experienced.
The first space we visited was the Garden of Exile which attempts “to completely disorient the visitor. It represents a shipwreck of history.” (Daniel Libeskind, 1999) When you first look at it up close, and as you start to walk through it, it appears to be very straight and vertical– but you soon find yourself stumbling, almost dizzy and disoriented through the maze. From the outside of the museum, as we were leaving, we could see the extreme angle and tilt of the garden in comparison to the level ground that created this feeling.
Then we went in the dark, chilling Holocaust Tower. It is a 79 foot high, bare concrete tower with only a small shaft of light entering through the roof.
There is a metal ladder on one wall, far above your head. Unreachable. It appears to go to the top– a possible escape… but it doesn’t quite reach the blackness of the ceiling.
The feeling of the space is cold, dark isolation, with no way out.
The third space was the only area of the Libeskind ‘void’ that could be entered. Shalekhet- Fallen Leaves designed by artist, Menashe Kadishman, consists of 10,000 faces punched out of steel. They are scatter on the floor of the “Memory Void” and visitors are encouraged to walk on them.
The artist intended them to not only represent the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) but dedicated them to all victims of war and violence.
Through the main museum, you had to go to the top to enter the exhibition rooms. Then like a maze, you walked through Jewish history, with only one way out as you made your way to the bottom of the museum.
Michael and I explored most of the museum on our own, leaving the group behind so we could go at our own pace.
We had lunch in the courtyard of the museum and a short break to wander down the street before the tour continued.
Next, we visited the Holocaust Memorial named, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was designed by Peter Eisenman who described its design as to produce feeling of uneasy confusion and represents an “ordered system that has lost touch with human reason”. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs of varying heights, on a grid pattern of unlevel ground.
The English pamphlet, though, states that there is no intended symbolism.
Our tour guide said that he believed the intention behind the design was to allow visitors to envision their own meaning based on what experiences, or desired meanings they intended to gather from visiting the memorial. Below the memorial, underground, is a vault with all the known names of the Jewish Holocaust victims.
The first thing I saw when we approached, was a large cemetery. The outer stelae (slabs) are lower to the ground and as you walk through the memorial, you become engulfed, with the stelae towering over you in height. I couldn’t help but notice its similarity to the Garden of Exile at the Jewish Museum.
A big controversy arose over the memorial because it only recognized the Jewish victims, leading to memorials for other war victims being erected throughout Berlin.
On the bus, we went past Checkpoint Charlie but didn’t stop– which upset me because it was listed in the tour description. Our tour guide said he doesn’t stop there because it is “100% made in China.” The ‘checkpoint’ is not the original, it is a fabrication, standing on the original site. He considers it nothing more than an overcrowded tourist-trap. (It is surrounded by dozens of souvenir stands.)
Our next to last stop in Berlin, held two important exhibits. One of the few standing sections of the Berlin Wall and below and beside it, an indoor/outdoor exhibit, Topography of Terror.
Topographie des Terrors stands on the site where three buildings used as headquarters by the SS and Gestapo once stood. The buildings were largely destroyed in 1945 by allied bombing and the rest demolished after the war. Only part of the foundations remain. Against those foundations, stands the outdoor exhibit which focuses on the events of the year 1933 when the Nazi regime came into full power.
It’s a great exhibit and I’m really glad I got to see it. I found it really powerful and moving, especially having been to the concentration camp the day before. It was like taking a step backwards and seeing where (and how) it all began.
The Berlin Wall. As an average person, of my age, witnessing the changing world history– The the fall of communism, the tearing down of the wall, the reunification of East and West Berlin– it was an important moment in my life. The images from the original media coverage are engrained in my mind.
I remember talking to a friend, shortly there after, who was in Germany with a touring show at the time, who was lucky enough to be there as it happened. I remember how jealous I was that they were present at that important moment in history.
The wall itself, is not that threatening. It’s a very thin concrete wall. It is the symbolism of what it represented and how it affected so many lives that’s important.
Our tour guide recounted his experience when the wall came down: Friends were calling him in the middle of the night but he didn’t believe them. Finally he heard the reactions of people in the street and realized it must be true. An aunt of his that lived on the other side (I don’t remember who he said lived in East and West Berlin), showed up at his door the next morning, suitcases in hand. She brought with her, all her important belongings because she was afraid the freedom to cross the line wouldn’t last and she would be separated from them again. They had been separated for years.
So I was finally here. I was staring at this insignificantly simple structure that represented so much heartache and political control of people for so long. I was finally able to link my own personal recollections– my history– in this very spot, which was a very important moment in time for me.
I could go on a tangent here about the evils of war, political control and the horrific events that have ruined so many lives of average people (Look at what’s happening in Egypt and Syria today.) But I won’t.
I was content. No, exhilarated to be here and see this first hand.
It started to pour just as it was time to get back on the bus. We had to run through the rain to keep from getting totally drenched. I suddenly realized, though we’d seen a lot, I was a little disappointed with our visit to Berlin.
We still had one more stop before heading back to the ship– and then I looked out the window and we were suddenly driving through the shopping district. There’s no other way to put it, it was simply amazing! Blocks and blocks of tree lined streets shading nearly every designer shop you could possible think of– it was a shopping mecca. Beautiful!
It made me want to go back before we’d even left.
Our last stop in Berlin was the Schloss Charlottenburg (Palace). We didn’t have much time here except to walk around the front courtyard and statue of Friedrich Wilhelm I. It was built at the end of the 17th century and later expanded. I wish we’d had time to tour the inside and the incredible gardens on the other side of this massive palace.
I guess I’ll have to put that on my list for things to see the next time I’m in Berlin.
I’ll be back.