Reality Bites

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One of my nephews just graduated from college, and is now in the real world.

This means that sometime over the next few months, he must find a job. But not so fast: first, he’s going on a 10-day tour of Israel. A few weeks later, he’s going to Italy with his family.

I think this is a good idea because let’s face it, once you’re in the working world your life isn’t your own. You’re expected to be somewhere a minimum of 40 hours a week, and work for a living. And though getting a job is something we all must eventually do, I don’t think new college graduates should rush or panic about finding work.

Everybody eventually will find a job, though it may not be on their timetable. And the chances finding the perfect job right out of college are pretty slim. Your first job is about getting your feet wet, and having the thrill of actually being hired. It’s about having an answer when everybody asks, “So what will you be doing now?”

The Curmudgeon’s first job was working in the unemployment office in New Haven, CT. He thinks it helped land him a clerkship at the Connecticut Supreme Court after law school. The judge he worked for was fascinated by his work with the unemployed, and made no secret of it.

You never know what a job opportunity will bring. I met the Curmudgeon at work, and we’re still going strong (most of the time) after 35 years. Often, a job is just a job, but sometimes it’s an opening to the rest of your life.

The greatest advice I can give to new college graduates is that it will all work out. No one expects you to stay in your job for 40 years unless you work for Major League Baseball, as one of my nephews does. If you happen to land that dream gig, we expect you to stay for life and get us free tickets to the World Series.

It’s important to remember that a job is something you do, but it’s not you. It’s important to find fulfillment and satisfaction at work, but you shouldn’t rely on your job to be happy. That’s where family, friends, dogs, travel, faith, volunteerism, and the extracurriculars come in.

I view jobs a lot like the first year of marriage. The first year is the honeymoon stage where everything is great, and then reality sets in and things start to bother you. You have to decide whether you’ll stick around, or search for something else.

This pretty much sums up repairs on my front loader. The repairman was stumped, and it remained broken after three visits. When I looked for broken washing machine images on the Internet, nearly all were front loaders.


My father was a big believer in kids working. On the last day of school every year, he’d look around the family room at seven kids draped over sofas and lounging on the floor and announce: “If you think you’re going to hang around this house all summer and do nothing, you’re wrong. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. I expect you to get a job and if you don’t work, you’re going to summer school.”

So much for a little R & R.

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I learned to type, drive and play tennis at summer school during high school – all things that have served me well into adulthood. And I learned to take almost any job that presented itself, adhering to the sayings: “Necessity is the mother of invention” and “It’s easier to find a new job once you have one.”

I worked for Sears Service Center a few summers, manning the phones in the service department. I had the honor of calling customers and telling them that the service man they’d been waiting on all day would not be coming out.

There is no greater challenge than calling a woman who has taken a day off from work and telling her that the repairman she was expecting between 1 to 5 p.m. will not be coming. At least one customer threatened to dump her broken air conditioner on my front lawn. I really couldn’t blame her. It was something like 90 degrees outside.

After the screaming and cursing die down, there is the realization that you still have a broken appliance. And about all you can do on the customer service end is to give them the best you’ve got: the coveted first call of the day.

As a seasoned customer service pro, I know these slots are reserved for customers who must be placated because their appliances weren’t fixed on a previous call or service guys blew them off the previous day.

These are the prime spots, the front row concert tickets of the service world. And you pretty much have to earn them. No one is going to give you the first call because you’re a good person or asked nicely.

Working in Sears’ customer service trenches taught me some valuable lessons above and beyond the cities in Maine, which is where all of Sears’ appliances to Connecticut originated. Most importantly, I learned that customers are at the mercy of repairmen and you’re under house arrest any time you’ve got a service appointment.

We all hope we’ll be at the early end of their time slots, but we never are. We’re always the last call before lunch, or the last call of the day. When I recently asked if a 3-6 p.m. window could be made any more specific, the customer service rep said, “no.”

When I explained that this was the third service call for my washing machine in one week, she said, “No.”

“But I was hoping to walk the dog at some point in the afternoon,” I said. “And three hours is an awfully big window.”

I was getting nowhere fast, so I did something I’ve never done in 40 years: I pulled out my customer service card. I explained that I’d sat on her end of the phone years ago, and understood how difficult her job is.

“I can have him call you 20 minutes before he’s coming out to your house if that will help,” she said. It was better than nothing, though just slightly.

He called and came out again, and the machine still didn’t work. So we pulled the plug on the fancy front loader after just three years and went with a top loader that’s as basic as they come. And guess what? The machine was delivered at 12:30 p.m., just a half hour into my 12-3 p.m. slot.

Like I said, things always work out in the end.

2 thoughts on “Reality Bites

  1. After selling insurance for a year (a terrible job at which I was terrible), I took a job at McDonald’s, just until I could find something better. 27 years later I retired after a wonderful career. It all worked out.
    We bought a new washer last year – a top loader, as they all have been.


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