An Introvert Goes to the Gym

English: President Barack Obama walking with V...

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Is Obama considering how to sneak off and shoot a few hoops without his VP? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I faced my neurosis. I had a secret, and not a very juicy one. My office mate and I belong to the same gym. For months, I’ve known this fact, while she did not. I intended to keep my foolish secret forever.

Long ago, I gave myself the title of introvert in order to sound less…weird? Antisocial? Sociopathic? I’ve heard Barack Obama described as an introvert, and if it works for the President, it works for me. Although he’s probably never rearranged his schedule to avoid Joe Biden at the White house gym.

I often prefer my own company to that of others. Some people can’t stand spending time alone; I crave it. People simply exhaust me, especially when I am enclosed in a small office with them five days a week. Listening to others chatter about their every whim and the most private details of their lives is too much. I could not bear to continue the torture at the gym as well.

So, I chose to keep my gym membership top secret. When my office mate flaunted her new gym shoes and crowed to others that they should find the type of will power she had and join her for a workout sometime, I busied myself with my work and said nothing.

Because I rarely talk about my personal life, this simple lie of omission was easy. It also helped that I heard my coworker admit she had not been to the gym for months, because her friend was unable to go. With this revelation came a sense of relief at being able to work out whenever I wanted, without a chance of bumping into her. It also brought a new sense of pressure to keep my secret.  If she learned I was going to the gym, I worried, she might ask me to take her friend’s place at the elliptical machine right next to her. The horror!

And with the new year, suddenly, she seemed to be going again. I saw the gym bag. I heard her talk about dropping her friend off after their workout.  My phobia reached a whole new level of crazy, as I started tracking her schedule, so as never to go at the same time.

Last week, I hit rock bottom. Fully intending to go there directly from work, I heard her say that she was going to the gym after work and I felt my heart sink. So, I did what any lunatic would do. I skipped the gym, and I became depressed. I was disappointed in myself. How had I gotten to this point, where I was depriving myself of something that was good for me and that I actually enjoyed, for the sake of some idiotic secret? It no longer made sense.

I hung around the house that evening, watching the clock. After sufficient time had passed that I knew she must done with her workout and nowhere near the facility, I went back. Hey, no one ever said being neurotic would be easy.

But today, when I heard her say that she had forgotten her gym bag and would have to go home and get it, I decided to take my chances. My mental and physical well-being were at stake. I realized there was a strong possibility she would arrive at the gym while I was still there, but I was ready to face my fears. I would no longer be a prisoner of my own madness. Nevertheless, I sped faster than ever to the gym, hoping to increase my chances of finishing before her arrival. My face was hot and my heart was racing.

I thought going to the gym was supposed to help lower blood pressure, not raise it.

About twenty minutes into my workout, I felt so good, I nearly forgot about her.  I did cast a few furtive glances around, to satisfy myself she was not bobbing along on a treadmill somewhere. I did not cut my exercise short, though. I did my full routine, and scanned the gym as I made my way to the door. Crisis averted!

Then, it happened.  Just as I approached the glass doors, I saw her walking toward the building. What could I do? Head held high, I walked straight toward her. I smiled and greeted her at the front door. I wished her a good workout and walked to my car.

Hours later, I feel a burden has been lifted. And yet, I think about that moment when I saw her, right before she saw me. I wonder if I would have had time to run to the bathroom and hide in a stall until the coast was clear.

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All’s Not Fair in School and Work

barely-wait-credit-great-workplace-ecard-someecardsAt my office, there is a lot of paperwork. I’m talking hard copies that we physically move around the office but never scan or store electronically. For the past year, another employee and I have talked about how efficient we could be with a system for scanning and storing paperwork electronically.

Every time we talked this way, certain seasoned employees objected, saying it would never work. They argued that scanning would take too much time, and we countered that we could hire a part-time person to do nothing but scan. While the other lady and I have seen the utility value in a paperless system, the others have not. She and I have had a personal interest and confidence in our ability to succeed in implementing such a system, but the others have shown none. They do not seem to believe that our team could have control over the outcome. In other words, the majority of our staff has been seriously unmotivated to go paperless.

Every once in a while, a girl finds herself in the right place at the right time. It actually happened to me this past week. Just as I was immersed in a grad school lesson about using motivation in training, my company’s president announced he had talked with our software company about ways to start scanning documents into the system. We were finally going paperless.

Before me, I saw a grand opportunity to motivate my coworkers. I would not use shallow, external motivation such as rewards for attending the training or punishment for not trying the new scanners. Oh, no. Not this smarty pants. Such attempts at motivation lack intrinsic value, and I had big plans to help employees see that they are in control of making the paperless system help them do their jobs more efficiently. I would spark their personal interest.

When we first implement the paperless system, I daydreamed, there will be kinks, and it is important that employees not attribute these early failures to forces beyond their control. If they just throw their hands up and declare the whole scanning system to be impossible, we would get nowhere. Employees will need to see that as we work with each other and our software company on specific techniques and strategies, we can overcome these little problems and make it work.

I considered a pilot group including myself, the other lady who is strongly in favor of the program and a few of the more experienced employees who show a willingness to learn. We would work out a few initial snags and share our accomplishments with the team to promote vicarious feelings of success. After incorporating a social model of success, we could help the other employees assess themselves to make sure they meet prerequisites before beginning. For example, have they used a scanner before? Are they familiar with naming and saving files in a variety of formats? What prior knowledge, if any, do they have of paperless systems?

While incorporating social success, I reminded myself, I must be careful. Some of the older employees, who have been doing things the old-fashioned way for decades, could become irritated if they interpret our successes as a challenge or competition. I would never say to a seasoned employee, “If we can do it, why can’t you?”

I was on fire with ideas, and I couldn’t wait to share them with the team. I really was in the right place at the right time!

Then, I made the mistake of going to lunch. One short hour later, I arrived back at the office to find the queen of naysayers sending documents through a scanner that seemed to have appeared during my absence. I immediately noticed a drastic change. She was not grumbling. On the contrary, she was singing the new system’s praises and bragging to upper management about what she was accomplishing. They were positively beaming at her.

I wish there were a moral to this story, but there’s not. Sometimes, evaluation and planning simply mean jack squat next to a loud mouth with a desperate need for attention. Such is office life.

Employees Come with Prior Knowledge. Use it!

not-clear-why-needed-workplace-ecard-someecardsWhen I applied for my current job, the woman at the staffing agency asked if I had a high school diploma. I told her I was working on my Master’s degree, and she gave me a look.

Interpreting facial expressions can be tricky, and in this instance, I was really stumped. Did she think I was showing off? Was she sending me a silent warning to keep my over qualifications to myself before I ruined her shot at meeting her job placement quota for the month? Or was she deciding whether to eat her ham sandwich or go out for lunch?

I am pretty sure the staffing agency never told my employer about my education, and to this day I am unsure whether my boss even knows I hold a Bachelor’s Degree. While my education in no way makes me smarter or better able to do my job than someone without it, I think that in the course of my schooling, I may have developed a few special metacognitive skills, which could have been very valuable during my training. If I were a manager, I would want to have some understanding of a new employee’s prior knowledge before beginning any training. Ruth C. Clark writes that metacognitive skills help us “set goals, select strategies, monitor results, and adjust based on outcomes.”

Recently, my organization hired a part-time employee, who is a young nursing student. The very fact that she attends college and also took the initiative to work in our office three days a week tells me that she most likely has a strong level of metacognition. In addition, I have observed her strong work ethic and desire to learn and to contribute to the team.

Because we work in different departments, I have had very little opportunity to teach her. Her brief, informal training has been lead by her supervisor, who is an expert at her job but who admits she is a bad teacher. I have noticed instances where our new girl is uncertain of how to do something or why it is done a certain way, and the bewilderment she displays is certainly no indication of stupidity. The tasks required of this bright young lady are so domain-specific and different from the knowledge and skills she uses as a nursing student, it’s no surprise she seems lost at times.

There are a variety of tools available for assessing learners’ study skills, strengths and weaknesses. Such evaluations focus on covert and overt thoughts, behaviors, attitudes and beliefs related to successful learning. While formal evaluations may not be the right fit, I think a little more attention to each employee’s individual skills, strengths and weaknesses would go a long way in training.

In her book Building Expertise, Clark writes about expert performers’ invisible mental processes that are not explicit to learners, who do not have the benefit of seeing the experts’ goal-setting, planning and monitoring techniques. I believe this same situation occurs at my workplace, where our new girl simply observes the end result of her trainer’s work. The trainer, who is an expert at her job, “magically” displays the correct way to perform tasks, just as Clark writes about, without demonstrating the necessary metacognitive approaches. I wish someone would take time to observe our new girl performing tasks and ask for feedback, such as What are you doing now? Why are you using that approach? or What other alternatives have you considered? like Clark suggests. When a student has to answer these questions repeatedly, she starts to anticipate them, and she learns to incorporate metacognitive planning and monitoring into her work.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to have the time to observe or ask such questions, so she is allowed to move ahead without direction. She is a hard worker and wants to do well, but because her expert trainer is always so busy, it seems our little student is sometimes hesitant to ask for explanations if she does not understand something. Without any feedback, her opportunities to grow are limited. She is left alone to accomplish a task, and if nobody is there to challenge or to encourage her to try a more efficient way, she could develop some bad habits through no fault of her own.

I suppose I could take her under my wing. Learn her strengths. Help her to incorporate her wealth of nursing knowledge into a system model of transfer and learning, focusing on the best way to put papers in a file cabinet. But, wow, look at the time. I should be going to lunch. Mentoring can wait.