Friday, December 22, 2006

Put on a Happy Face

Other than having more time to write, the number two reason I have trouble with "real" jobs, which often made me want to quit in the past, was this: At work, you're not allowed to have a bad day. Not before you come in, at least. I've had bosses ask me to do things as incomprehensible (to me) as "change channels" when I was an emotional wreck. Not, "Take twenty minutes to breathe, or even, "Maybe you should go home," but just "turn off the bad feelings and put on your happy face." I've cried, hidden in storage closets and bathrooms; and been grateful for the silence of the client on the massage table, hoping to hide my feelings before the boss found out.

There is a degree of this at every job, and of course from the customer's point of view it makes sense. Who hasn't been rung up by a surly clerk who's clearly had a bad day? Who hasn't received hostile comments or undeserved brusqeness when all you want to do is pay for your tomatoes and go home? Nobody likes a sour puss, or worse, someone crying sad, mucus tears while they serve you food.

I totally understand the reasons behind why it is good to put on a happy face in a workplace. The problem is, I have never been any good at that.

You could be one of those people slow to interpret feelings and you'd still know mine with a quick glance because I wear them like brashly colored medals. When I'm upset, my voice shakes. Trembles! It drives me nuts. I can't lie for the same reason. Dark circles form under my eyes. I cry even in public. I get "hollow" and faraway no matter how hard I try to come out of it, it's like being on a weird elevator that keeps going down when you want to go up.

It's been two blissful years of getting to feel how I want, when I want, as often as I want because I work for myself at home where the only one to notice when my husband isn't home, is the cat--and between us, Figaro is very self-centered.

Now that I'm back interacting with the world, I realize that I am going to have to take a "happy face" lesson pretty damn fast, because there's always going to be another bad day.


At 6:30 AM, Blogger gerry rosser said...

Over the last several years, I have been working on the "happy face" thing, as something to offer up to those who provide me some service (waiter, checkout, anything). Sometimes the response is good, other times I can't break through the person's "shell." However, I go blithely on, assuming that kind words, funny quips (at least I think they are funny), and a warm attitude add something to anybody's day (maybe at some deep unconscious level), although their feet may be killing them, their boss may be crappy to them, their wages may be lean, and their living style humble. [I still haven't gotten over reading "Nickeled and Dimed" and wish every living person would read it].

At 8:10 AM, Blogger tracer said...

Beautiful smile, lady. I don't believe necessarily in the "happy face." I hate when people are falsely chipper. Personally, I prefer simple politeness and an ability to get the job done. Sniffle and mope as you direct me to my book selection, I don't care. When a worker tells me "sorry, having a bad day" rather than grumbling at me or putting on a false smile I am totally understanding. But here's hoping that the bad days at work are few and far between.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

I've been thinking about this post for a while, Jordan.

I was reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch this weekend and came across a passage that reminded me of what you've written here. She references a book by Robert Jackall, called Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, and discusses the need to wear "masks" at work:

According to Jackall, corporate managers stress the need to exercise iron self-control and to mask all emotion and intention behind bland, smiling, and agreeable public faces.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Yes, that rings true. I'm not suggesting that the complete opposite is the right thing to do either, but as an example, I once worked for a small documentary production company where everyone was always so busy that I rarely had intimate conversations with anyone, and I was the personal asst. to the owner, so I sat in the secretary's position at the front desk--one day I had had a fight or an upset with someone and I came in still red-faced and somber and I had more deep, interesting, kind converstaions with people that day--when they could clearly see my vulnerability--than any day previous or after.


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