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I didn’t know what time it was when I stepped into the news station’s breakroom. I sat at a round kitchen table and stared at the white phone on the white wall, with its over-used cord stretched to a loose loop. I would use the phone to call my mom — long distance — in a minute. If anyone upstairs in the newsroom found out, they would understand. More than a few co-workers wanted to call home, I felt sure, and many had already made the call at least once that day.

We had a lot to talk about. But the pitter-patter of fingers on keyboards and whispers as though we were in church replaced our customary newsroom banter. Our somber approach to our work was the new norm. …

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Chances are, if you are an American adult, you are overweight. Per the National Institute of Health, 70% of all American men and women were overweight, and many of that number were obese, according to a 2015–2016 study. But we weren’t born with a craving for unhealthy foods that fill us with calories our bodies don’t need. Also, in our country’s short 244-year history, our collective expansive waistline is a recent event. In 1960 we were, on average, 25 pounds lighter.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that Americans work more hours per year than workers in Japan, Canada, or the United Kingdom. That figure led me to discover something else: the average life expectancy of Americans has gone down for three consecutive years, and the age group responsible for the downturn is middle-aged adults, due to factors which include obesity. But, wait — though our problem with excess weight relates to the hours we spend at work, it’s not in the way that you probably think. …

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I cannot count the number of times, in the middle of a conflict, that I’ve wished I knew what to say to resolve the argument in the best possible way. Instead, I’ve said whatever came to mind, which often worsened the conflict or accommodated the other person in a way that felt untrue to myself. My lack of skill in this area, and the aftermath of these interactions, led me to believe that I should avoid conflict altogether.

If I’m being honest, my avoidance also stemmed from my fear of change. Desperate to avoid change, I often conveyed that the other person’s conflicting concerns were not as important as they had imagined. Then, I called out their reckless emotive behavior. As a result, throughout my career, my go-to tools for conflict-resolution were denial and shame — an unhelpful approach which I now intend to change. …

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I didn’t want to take the computer-proficiency tests required by the staffing agency. I tried to convince the hiring coordinators — who were all a decade younger than me — that I didn’t need to be tested. I was well-versed in many computer programs. But the hiring coordinators wouldn’t budge from their stance that “to get me into the system,” I needed to complete all aspects of their evaluation.

I really wanted a job. It had been months since I moved back to California from Las Vegas, during which I applied for many jobs, went on a few interviews, and received no call-backs. Though the global financial crisis continued to steamroll the economy, I felt that I should be able to find a job without too much difficulty. …

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What’s the first thing you do when you wake up on a workday morning? Maybe you hit the snooze button, or check your phone. Maybe you’re a morning person and you jump out of bed. Your routine may vary depending on the day of the week but, overall, nothing could be more mundane… or so you thought.

As far as you knew, there was nothing hidden in your decision to take a shower before you had breakfast. The fact that you often fixed someone else’s breakfast before your own made perfect sense. What could be simpler, you thought, than your decision to brush your teeth just before you sped out the door? …

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My best friend leaned across the small table between us, careful not to spill her drink. “I saw a police officer at the scene, and he was getting sick.” Her eyebrows lifted and her eyes widened. “When I drove past, I saw that the car was totally smashed. Like, it was in pieces.” She leaned back in her chair and shook her head. Around us, the bar continued to hum with loud voices and laughter.

I sat and stared at my drink without knowing what to say. Earlier that day when a co-worker told me about the accident, I had trouble believing it. I had just seen Justin the night before. He waved over his shoulder and grinned as he left the restaurant where we worked to spend the night partying with his older brother. At work the next day, my co-worker whispered to me what she knew: In the early hours of that morning, Justin’s brother was behind the wheel when their speeding car went out of control on a familiar-sounding road between an apartment complex and a tree-lined path. I realized that my best friend lived near where the accident happened and may have heard something, but I did not expect that her response would make the accident so real, vivid, and unforgettable. …

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Listen, your heart’s in the right place. You want to be helpful, and not just because you read that being helpful will make you happy. You intend to be helpful because you want to do some good in the world, and you feel that there’s no better time than now.

The idea that you would start your quest to be helpful by aiding others at work was a good one. A helpful mindset should enhance any work environment, you reasoned, whether it be competitive, high-stress, or not. …

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I woke up in my mother’s arms just as she handed me across the threshold of our next-door neighbor’s front doorway. I recognized Donna’s different scent and feel, and the midnight dark and quiet in her entryway. Donna and my mother exchanged hushed words. Then, the front door closed on my mother’s fading presence.

Donna placed me on her living room couch, atop a blanket thrown over pleather cushions. The blanket slid when I moved and the cushions creaked as Donna sat at my hip. I asked about my neighbor-friends, Donna’s son and daughter. Donna said they were asleep and that I should be too, and shushed me. …

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Let’s get a few things straight. Conflict makes my palms sweat and my heart race. If I cannot immediately resolve a conflict, I put as much distance between myself and it as possible. In fact, I once left a job in order to avoid dealing with a conflict that sprung up between me and a co-worker. I kept waiting for the friction between us to resolve itself over time, and when it didn’t, I felt like leaving was my only choice. I’ve learned a lot in the 15 years since then.

My education in standing up for myself didn’t get fully underway until I began my career. In truth, I only recently came to the realization that I sought to resolve conflicts hastily, in the interest of self-preservation rather than for the common good. Also, now that I am paying attention, I’m surprised at the number of people I know who are like me in this respect. This includes many of my co-workers, with one or two exceptions who — either consciously or not — cause conflict. …

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“Can we talk?” Judy didn’t wait for my reply. “Let’s go in here.”

My hand, which was reaching for my bag in preparation to leave work for the day, froze in mid-air. I almost made it out, I thought to myself with a laugh. I followed Judy to a small meeting room and plopped down into a chair. Judy closed the door and sat opposite me, on the other side of a round table. She sat back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest, then lifted her chin and angled her face away from me and wouldn’t hold my gaze. I leaned forward.

About

Alisa Wilson

I combine my passion for writing with lessons from my varied work history. Find more on my Lessons from a Quirky Career Path at authoralisawilson.com.

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