Most times we don’t notice but the world is ever changing in teeny tiny bits. Then sometimes changes pop us over the head, impossible to ignore. It’s like hearing a word for the first time and then hearing it over and over again. How have I not heard that word before and how many other things have I missed? I had a pop on the head thanks to my adult daughter and a decorative plant. A plant that pissed her off.
Like many people, my daughter graduated from college with seemingly nothing going her way. She had student debt, a degree in philosophy and no desire to use grad school as a stop gap to adulthood. Jobs were scarce in general and the thought of getting a “real job” with just an undergraduate degree seemed fairly unlikely.
She was, in true millennial fashion, casual about the whole job thing and took the first receptionists job she could get. I congratulated her but was not thrilled that this pretty and bright young woman had taken a job that I was fairly certain wasn’t matched to her skill set. I had been the “friendly face” in the lobby a few times myself and I knew being a receptionists is a set up for exploitation.
No matter where you work, the lowest paid person is paradoxically somehow indispensable. The copier is jammed? Get The Girl to unjam it. Coffee pot is empty? Get The Girl to make more. There is a car parked in my spot? Get The Girl to call for a tow. Need a flier made for your yard sale? The girl can make one. The toilet is clogged? The Girl can plunge that. Your kids are in the office? The Girl can entertain them. Now where’s that girl? She’s never doing anything!
There are skills that you can quantify like how fast you can type or how many software systems you know but then there are other skills, super secret girly skills, that are just as important but impossible to measure.
At first my receptionists daughter liked getting to know everyone and figuring out how they fit into the company. She noticed right away that no one else seemed to know or care about what anyone else did. See, there’s your first mistake, girl. You cared. But it’s not good parenting even with your adult children to tell them not to care so instead I used the old standard distraction leading to full on nihilism, “people are so busy…we’re all so busy…who can know anything?”
When my daughter told me that they had not only expected her to decorate for Halloween but someone who had not at all offered to help had an opinion about her Kleenex ghost placement, well, the veil was lifted. She saw in that moment what took me decades to see. She saw her value not as The Girl who could remember what the titles and the jobs were and who required which room for what meeting but as The Girl who couldn’t get her decorations in a proper ghastly scatter formation.
As usual, it was Christmastime that officially killed the dream. Again, The Girl was asked to decorate but this time, people helped with trays of cookies and candy that she had to clean up after and “get away from” the dieters. Eventually some festive asshole put a poinsettia on her desk. A lone red flowering plant on the end of her reception desk. Not a wonderful plastic self caring plant, a real live thing that The Girl now had providence over.
“Hey, that plant looks like it needs some water” said a miscellaneous monster on the way to their desk.
The Girl was defiant, “No fucking way am I caring for a plant that I did not pick out and purposefully place on my desk for the world to enjoy”. She started applying for better jobs the next day. Within months she had a better job. A job with a door.
The only good thing about having this or one of the many other service industry jobs where you are a prime target for getting pissed on by the general public is that you learn that it’s not ok to be a jerk to anyone simply trying to do their job. The wait staff, the valet, the sales clerk and the random customer service representative are just trying to make it through the day like the rest of us.
Although most service jobs can be held by either gender, receptionists are still mostly women. I’m not sure if it’s a law exactly but men can answer the phone, right? Greeting strangers is not a vagina holder only power. Yet these jobs are usually held by women who are expected not only to present a professional image but bring an array of talents and skills that are not listed on the Craigslist ad that the former receptionist was asked to place.
Once a boss told receptionists me that I would look “so good in a hot tub” and then growled “oh I made you blush” when I was clearly embarrassed for him. Sticking that plant on my daughter’s desk was the equivalent dick boss move. When we reduce people to what they visually look like, what they provide in service to us we take away any possibility of collegiality. I’m just glad that my daughter found out in her early work life.