Each morning, I am like Maxwell Smart moving swiftly across city streets, rhythmically through revolving doors, down hallways, up elevators, through more doors and I stop. I press the key pad, code in and walk to my desk. I unlock the main door, log on to the computer, put my earpiece on. I am ready to begin. A bright, large-windowed, showroom included, office space, is my home from 8:30am-5:30pm, Monday through Friday. A small white, sea shell sits at the base of my computer.
I am 56 years old and the Receptionist for a long-established design company in New York City. I won’t lie, returning to a desk job after 25 years of freelance work, has been an adjustment. Our life plan involved retirement, a family home by the sea and years of happily ever after. Our children would marry, have children of their own and we’d all gather in our cherished, shingled cottage on the coast of Massachusetts. However, things changed. The financials no longer match the dream. While the factors leading to our current challenge could not have been foreseen or prevented, this does not make it any easier to accept. Now we must move past this and maintain our overriding theme – forge on! So, we embarked upon a plan B involving my finding a job that offers a steady, predictable salary, paid medical coverage and good old-fashioned peace of mind. Retirement may not be in our vocabulary, but we will rebuild and figure this out. We are, in imagery, BRAVEHEART, riding with William Wallace to right the wrongs.
I remember my first job out of college very clearly and one detail in particular. I was an editorial assistant for a large, well-known publisher. Day one on the job, I cleaned my desk and tossed a bullet into the garbage (yes, a bullet). What was a bullet doing in my desk with the pens and pencils? (exactly what I asked myself as I threw it into the trash). Soon after, I found that this was no ordinary bullet. This was the bullet that had been passed down over the years from assistant to assistant, symbolizing what each must do when working for this well-respected and well-known New York City editor; we must “bite the bullet” like the wounded soldiers before anesthesia. Clearly this was an indication of what was to come. Ironically, that job was a coveted one and the job most aligned to my strengths and likes. Though, I did not realize this at the time.
Thirty-five years later, “bite the bullet” comes to mind as I accept that working for myself will no longer be enough. I am offered this job and I say yes. My mission now, as I see it, is to approach this like no other job before it. I will bring my A game every minute of every day. I will make this job my own. I will be the female version of Robert De Niro in “The Intern.” No job will be too big or too small for me. I will place myself in a “no judgement zone” and do all I can to be helpful, courteous and informative as I sit at Reception. I will exploit my talent for conversation and make the guests feel welcome and comfortable, yet not trapped by a chatty Receptionist. I may even become the company’s secret weapon as I believe my age and experience could be my biggest asset on this job.
Perhaps I will also bring this job challenge to an even higher level by taking my own advice: pieces of “wisdom” given my four children over the past 20 years. They have rolled their eyes forever at my somewhat cliché counsel: “Think positive!” “You can’t change how others behave, only your reaction to them” “exercise! good for the body, mood and mind,” “try to stand in others shoes,” “Stick with it and stay the course,” etc. I have encouraged them to adopt and employ these adages, insisting that they can make and shape their day – their world.
This may all sound easy, however; Reception requires troubleshooting – both technological and situational. One must be able to think on one’s feet. There are things that can go wrong. From the phone console freezing (only when it is a call to or from the Chairman or President of the company), to the “on air” paging system being left on without one knowing, or visitors arriving for a meeting never scheduled, things are not always predictable. My goal: remain calm and collected. My feeling: (and respectfully meant), as long as everyone’s alive, we’re good.
I order lunches for some of the busier executives. This is not easy at all, because this requires my “no judgement zone” promise and sometimes it is a hard one to keep. There are often problems with the lunch that arrives (to be clear, this is not because of my ordering) and these problems can’t hold a candle to problems as I know them, but I do not judge. I understand how a lunch gone wrong can affect one’s day. I like my food and I don’t want my lunch order messed up either. I “stand in their shoes.”
Going to work in a New York City office is not as bad as I thought it would be. I work with a lot of smart, funny, talented people.
I commute by train. I can read more because the train ride allows this. Before this job, reading would have to be in the evening and I would inevitably fall asleep by page 5. I work with many people younger than myself. I find this a huge part of what I like about this job. They are fun and engaging and their energy is good energy to be around. I am gaining more insight into this generation. Many of them are the ages of my own children and could be my children at their jobs. These 20 and 30 somethings work hard and have strong demands on them – stronger than the ones I remember my generation having. This gives me a new perspective on my own children. The company is creatively driven which makes the environment and the activity interesting and inspiring to me. I watch and learn the design process from start to finish. Shoes may not matter. Actually, shoes and anything I wear from the waist down may not matter as I am not standing up too often. So I could wear my sneakers all day if I wanted.
Some things I don’t like: Shoes may not matter. I like shoes and would also like to get credit for the ones I have. I have some great shoes. However, I could be wearing slippers under my desk and no one would know. I sometimes feel like I am being benched in a sport. I want to play. I want to sit in the many meetings with the executive committee and give my thoughts and input. Obviously, my lack of experience in this business, keeps me at Reception. I continue to believe that I can learn and would have value somewhere. Throw me in there and give me a chance.
I think my age gives me the right temperament – one that doesn’t get too worked up about others’ attitudes and demands. I have a better outlook now and I am practically bullet-proof (what’s with all the bullet imagery?). I am happy to offer someone water on a hot day, or take their heavy coat on a cold one. I don’t mind ordering lunch for people my age and younger. What can someone possibly say or do that would make me feel insecure, small or unqualified? I’ve raised four children! Tell me what skill set is not used in that endeavor?
While this job may not be a “career,” I have found that it has tapped into many of the things I enjoy – meeting and conversing with people being one of these. I tend to conduct my own brief, informal interviews with job candidates as they wait with me in the Reception area. I have hired many in my head (and fired more). I have uncovered facts about them that their potential supervisor may never have known. My age allows me to make assessments confidently. I have always rooted for the underdog though, so I try to make these candidates feel comfortable, less nervous.
The job is gratifying in ways I may not have expected. I am not certain what kind of future may unfold here, however; I do know that it has confirmed the importance of adapting and adjusting to life’s twists and turns and this is critical. We will move forward expecting the best. I will also continue to channel my grandfather – a man I loved dearly and one respected by all for his character and integrity. He said, simply, “be proud of everything you have done today.” There is great satisfaction in that.