The Human Connection

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When you look at another person, a person with a whole life of experience that has molded and customized their thoughts, feelings and judgments, what do you see?

I am an eye contact kind of gal. I like to do my best to see people, really see them, and establish a connection. At work, I come in contact with a lot of people. Many customers walk past me or I walk past them. I make eye contact, I smile, I ask how they are and if they need help with anything.

There are those who accept my gestures of openness and allow me to guide them to their destination in the store, and we have little conversations and enjoy the company briefly, and there are those who respond with a refusal of eye contact, that walk right by pretending I never spoke. And that’s okay, I don’t let it bother me, but the moments when I form a human connection are the best moments of my day.

During this past week, a week of confusion, heartache, anger, sadness, loneliness, and every other emotion you can think of—helplessness, loss, grief, resentment, abandonment, happiness, confidence, love, hate—I have realized what amazing human connections I have nurtured and developed with my coworkers.

I usually try to leave my problems at home and be cheerful at work. I ask my fellow employees about their lives outside of this establishment, about their opinions and thoughts. I try to answer their questions clearly and thoroughly. I give them space to do the best job they can do, and congratulate and thank them for a job well done. I have been trying to be the best manager I can be, and accept people for what they can offer.

This week, when I couldn’t hide my sadness and had trouble functioning, I received the best gifts possible from my coworkers. I received their empathy, support and advice. I talked with most of them at different points during the week, took in their thoughts and really absorbed their feedback. I accepted their hugs and personal stories about difficult situations. Their love and support in my time of need clarified for me how much I value and cherish the human connection with coworkers, and also with frequent customers.

My veteran friend still comes to see me. Yesterday, he excitedly told me he just finished culinary school. He shared his story with a professor at a local university who owns a restaurant and offered him an internship. He was so excited that he couldn’t sleep that night. He told me that I was the first person he shared this great news with. He doesn’t have anyone else in his life to tell. This made me very sad for him, but I’m happy that we established our human connection, that I can tell him, “Congratulations!! I’m very happy for you! You must be so proud!”

How many small interactions have we had in our lives that positively affected someone else? It isn’t something we will ever know or be able to quantify. But every single time you leave your house, you have the opportunity to interact, make a connection, and make your life and someone else’s life a little more bearable.

I strive for these connections. They make me feel accepted and wanted and valued, which makes me a more confident person, and I suspect that the people on the other end are receiving their own kinds of gifts from these interactions.

A few of the hospice veterans that I’m getting to know want to form connections. I ask them questions, we look into each other’s eyes when we talk, I do my best to really listen and if I don’t understand, I ask them to repeat. They tell me about their younger lives and share stories about sweet grandchildren or tell me what is hurting or uncomfortable. I offer stories about myself that relate to their stories. They ask me questions, too. One man remembered what I do for a living, and told me he bets that I’m a great manager. And when there is nothing to say, we all sit quietly, comfortable just being with one another and comfortable in our own skin.

The atmosphere at the hospice unit is so calm and comfortable. I can feel that sense of calm flooding into me as soon as I arrive. It’s an aura of acceptance. Nurses, staff, doctors, janitors, food deliverers, and patients, understand what the next step is for these old men, and all live with this understanding. Death is a harsh reality, and it’s much harder for some to accept than others, but we will all go through it, and having that love and support from others makes that reality a little easier to live with.

Whether it’s a video I posted of a song I play and sing on guitar with a subject, “Can you tell that I’m bored?” and a close family friend emailing to ask why I’m bored and shows concern, my nephew and I smiling and staring into each other’s eyes, or a moment on Christmas Eve when my mom and I looked at each other with big smiles that displayed our unconditional love for one another, these moments are the most important in all of our existence. They are the moments that connect us with the world and help us realize how important each and every on one of us is.

I hope that, by posting this and sharing with all of you, you can take my words to heart and become aware of the vibes you send to others. If everyone could be accepting, understanding, open and supportive, the world would be a much happier place.

Ignorance is Not Always Bliss, The Story and Lessons of my First Failed Job Interview

After graduating with a BA in English, I procrastinated on applying for “real jobs,” and continued to put in 35 hours a week at a local bakery. A friend was working at a call center that was always looking for fresh meat, so I decided to bypass the search, take the easy way out and get a job there. Because I would get the job. I knew someone in the office, I was competent and friendly, and I’d never experienced rejection from a job I pursued, ever.

Every one of my previous jobs I had gotten on the spot; why should this one be any different? The bakery rehired me when I went in to purchase some Challah for French toast. The chocolate shop hired me even though I didn’t realize I would be questioned and was completely unprepared when asked, “Tell me about a time when you…?” or, “How would you creatively solve X, Y and Z?” Also, I went in wearing shorts and a T-shirt because it was the middle of a humid summer.

Even the office I worked at as a customer service representative hired me immediately, with no previous experience. The interviewer asked me some questions that, once again, I hadn’t prepared for, squinted her eyes at me like she was trying to see into my soul, hesitated for a minute or two, then told me to start on Monday. I didn’t know what the position title was before starting, and found out this important information on the first day of work.

I assumed that if I went in for the interview at my friend’s place, dressed for success, with an enthusiastic attitude, they would offer me the job at the end of the questioning.

Well, I’m sure you are all much less ignorant than I was at the time, and understand that there is more to getting a job than looking cute and rambling about how great I am on the phone and with customers. How do you think this interview went with the state of mind I was in? You guessed it! I did not get the job, and what a surprise it was to me when I received that rejection phone call! I learned a lot from this first failed attempt, though, and was better prepared for the interviews following.

My First mistake: I neglected to look at the job description. I had gotten a lot of information from my friend, and didn’t think it was necessary. Well, let me tell ya, it turns it was very necessary. If I had known that the job title had the word “sales” in it, maybe when the interviewer asked why I was interested in sales, I would have had a better answer than the one I gave him. What I said was, and I cringe thinking about it, “I’m not interested in sales.” This was probably the deal breaker. If I had read about the position, I could have taken quotes straight from it and elaborated on the skills I possess that would have made me an ideal candidate. I could have prepared for that ominous question…”Why are you interested in sales?”

My Second Mistake: I left my 3 resumes tucked into their orange paper folder, in the car. They had requested that I bring these resumes with me, and by the time I had sat in the lobby, greeted the interviewer, made small talk as we worked our way through the maze of hallways, I realized that the folder was not in my hand. I gasped and asked the interviewer if it would be okay to run out to my car quickly to get them. Of course, “No,” was the answer. “We can print them off later.” I was crushed. How could I have forgotten such crucial papers in the car? This showed the interviewer immediately that I came to the interview unprepared, which suggests that I might come unprepared for the job as well. After this experience, I never left my resumes in the car.   I replaced that elementary orange folder with a black leather folio, which contained a notebook where I could write down responses to my questions, and a pocket where I could store my resumes and the printed out job description, highlighted and scribbled on for my own reference.

Tips that could help you get the interview and avoid the rejection call:

1: Explore the employer’s website thoroughly. This will help you see whether the company is a good fit for you, and give you some things to talk about during the interview. You’ll be prepared when they ask, “What do you know about the company?” Sharing some of the information you have found shows that you did your research, and that you are interested in the position. I like to write these things into my notebook for reference.

2: Study the job description and input key words and phrases into your resume and during the interview. Using their phrases not only shows that you took the time to make your resume unique to the company, but also helps them to see you as a part of the company already.

3: My college career counselor’s advice: Where the company’s colors. This will make you look the part all the more.

4: Prepare some talking points, which will highlight your talents and abilities. I have a page or two of typed notes that I edit and bring to every interview. I can refer to it and make sure I’m not forgetting my most important points. I also write down responses to frequently asked questions to make sure that I don’t end up “umming” and “uhhing.”

The Veteran of War

I am a manager at a very busy pharmacy in Northern New Jersey, which means that I interact with many people from all walks of life. Well-dressed business men and women, moms with begging kids, elderly couples, slow moving elderly singles with short-tempered caretakers, homeless men and women who take sink showers in our public restrooms, kids waiting for a ride from their parents. Our customers are artists and nurses and stay-at-home moms and senior vice presidents of pharmaceutical companies. The list is endless. Many of these people are regulars—you get to know their faces and stories—and many are just passing through. Our location and easy parking situation draws the impulsive decision making types: “Pharmacy!! I need items A, B and C,” and they peel in, nearly hitting the cars streaming out and parking sloppily in one of the empty spots. (It’s a very dangerous lot. So many people coming and going and backing up and pulling in that I’m surprised I haven’t been hit yet by a zoned-out shopper!)

One of the frequent customers goes by Johnson. He’s tall and skinny and dark-skinned with a shiny bald head and missing front teeth, and when he speaks, his voice is low and raspy. I’ve wrung up his cigarettes on many an early morning, before an employee comes in to take over the main register. I hadn’t talked to him much until Thursday, but each time we’ve gone through the transaction motions, he has made sure to tell me he that he is a veteran.

On Thursday, I saw him at the coolers in Aisle 9 as I was unpacking a tote full of nuts and Pringles, and asked him how his day was going, proceeding with the standard, “Can I help you find anything?” We somehow got onto the topic of his veteran status, and I asked him, “Which war? What did you do?”

Vietnam, Air Force he told me. He was in the fire department, responsible for putting out burning planes and saving pilots’ lives. He grew up in foster care, always moving from family to family because his parents didn’t want him. He enlisted in the military because he values service to the nation. “Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” type stuff, you know. He got a high score on his test, so he didn’t have to go into the army, which is how he ended up on a fire department team in the middle of the Vietnam War.

When he came home, he didn’t know what to do with himself. Maybe he was in shock. I could never know or understand the violence he witnessed there, how many people he watched die, and what affect those experiences had on him.

He lived as a bum on the streets of Newark. He did crack with his girlfriend—“for a looooong time,” he told me. “Many years as a crack-addict bum on the street. Did some crazy shit.”

“But you can’t change the past and God gave me a second chance,” he told me. “I never went to prison, and if I had, no one could have bailed me out.” He had no friends with money, just other traumatized crack heads with too many dark memories and too little privilege.

But he’s been clean for six years now, and he’s got money to spend, and he works at the VA hospital, counseling veterans on their drug problems, helping them overcome the shock and trauma they are faced with. He redeems himself by helping other lost souls, and he is very proud of himself. He knows who he is, and he is happy.

He asked about my life as well, and I told him about how I had been applying for jobs and not getting them, how I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do with my life, how I’m so confused. He told me, as long as I know who I am and have confidence in myself, I’ll find my calling.

“Don’t let anyone treat you bad,” he said with a straight face and a pointed finger. “And if they do, it’s them having a bad day. Be happy with yourself cuz you can’t control other people, you can only control yourself.”

He loves women. He thinks they are God’s greatest gift. He would never mistreat a woman. He doesn’t have kids, and in his 60s, it’s too late. But it’s not too late for a wife. He is saving up money so that he and his future wife can settle down comfortably together and he can treat her right. Johnson is such a great example of how a person can turn his or her life around and finally find the path that is satisfying and rewarding.

He came back that same Thursday afternoon to find me. “You have a good heart,” he said, “You can tell by talking to someone and their body language. You should come work for the vet center.” He had taken my words to heart, and I can tell that he really wants to help me out.

I am going to the veteran hospital for processing and training tomorrow. I took his advice, looking into the open positions and volunteer opportunities, and will be starting my volunteer hours next week! With my background in English literature and writing, I will be talking to veterans and writing up biographies of them for the reference of employees and volunteers. I am very excited!!

He’s been stopping by to check on me ever since I told him would be volunteering there. On Friday night, I was behind the pharmacy counter helping to kill the line (finding customers’ prescriptions and scanning in dropped off scripts). Johnson poked his head through the consultation window and called out to me, “Hey, Yvonne!! Next Tuesday!!” His huge smile displayed his few white chompers.

I smiled big right back at him.

“Hi, Johnson!! Yeah, next Tuesday I’m going for training!” The frustrated woman whom I was assisting gave me a nasty look and Johnson understood that I was busy, but I feel so reassured having him as my cheerleader for this.

I don’t know what it will be like, but I’m sure it will be a valuable experience for me. It’s stepping out of my comfort zone, into a hospital filled with amputees and the mentally wounded, but having someone who really believes in me helps me believe in myself that I can do it.

Just shows, you never know what to expect from life or which random customer will lead you onto new adventures. As long as you stay open to the possibilities and commit to the small miracles with an open heart, happiness will find you.