Jobs (11/9/05)

Dear Zelda,

I'm so happy you're answering questions about jobs this week. BIG dilemma here. I just started a new job with a great company. The problem is that where I work all of us are in cubicles. Mine happens to be next to a girl who is VERY popular (I know this because her cell phone rings all day long with personal calls which start before I can even sip my morning coffee). I like her but the constant ringing is driving me crazy and making it hard to concentrate. I feel if I go to the boss it will be obvious that I complained since I'm the new girl (which is a nickname I get to hear over and over).

How do I shut off her gossipy cell phone?

Help Wanted

Dear Help Wanted,

Congrats on the new job! I have to agree with you, there is nothing worse than getting to work, sugar-free vanilla nonfat latte in hand, sitting down to begin the day, and suddenly being startled by an annoying ringtone followed immediately by the high-pitched banshee wail of "OH MY GOD, YOU-ARE-KIDDING!" reverberating from the adjacent cubie. Not even the best gossip should be heard before morning lattes.

Cell's bells...she's taken the phrase "can you hear me now?" to a whole new level. This a place of business for pete's sake, not a sorority house (well...unless you're actually working at a sorority house). Maybe that's why your cubicle was empty to begin with. She ran the last one out of there faster than she could burn up her monthly minutes. Don't delay, sister, MUTE her.

Start simple with a gentle knock on her cubicle wall, and ask her politely if she could turn down her cell ringer or put it on vibrate. Tell her, respectfully but directly, that it's hard for you to carry on a conversation with clients with all that ringing going on, and that people you talk to on the phone have thought it was actually YOUR cell phone and not hers. Hopefully she will understand your desire for a professional space, and that not everyone wants the ringtone version of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" to be the soundtrack to their every waking minute.

If that doesn't work, or if the direct approach is not your style, you could try to teach an old dog a new trick by showing her how to text message or instant message (both wonderfully silent pursuits except for the klick-klack of the keyboard or keypad). These are great ways to keep in touch with friends and keep up on the latest gossip without making it the business of everyone else within a hundred-foot radius. Just slip into the conversation how easy it is to text with friends, how you do it all the time, and how cool it is. Or, if you don't want to do this yourself, you could just drop a leaflet from your local cell phone company about texting or Instant Messaging on her chair anonymously.

Finally, if all your well-intentioned efforts have not managed to quiet the morning fanfare, it's time to go to the big kahuna. I'm guessing that if you can hear her ringing ruckus, so can everyone else, and that the boss is probably already aware of your gossip guru and her loud and maniacal mo-bile. Ultimately, it may require a new set of office rules about cell phone use, and that's where the head honcho comes in, hopefully taking some of the pressure off of you to be the enforcer.

Offices should be fun and social places, but you still deserve your peace and quiet! Don't let this diva of deafening dialogue cell your morning short.


Dear Zelda,

I'm what you would consider a "high level" executive at my company. My hours are long and the pay is excellent, but I'm writing you because my true passion is painting. I've never taken any classes but people tell me I'm good. I've actually sold a few to friends. Work has me so tired that as soon as I get home, I eat, watch a little TV, and hit the sack. I would love to quit my job and pursue painting full time. Am I crazy?


Stay or Van Gogh

Dear Stay or Van Gogh,

Unless you're the lucky recipient of an enormous trust fund, inheritance, or megabucks jackpot, I would think long and hard before just up and quitting the old day job. That whole starving artist thing is fun until you're actually...well...starving.

It's great to have the validation of your friends saying you're good, but will "good" pay the rent? I'm going to guess probably not (unless by some almighty act of MOMA you're a pre-determined Picasso, and you get discovered as such almost immediately). That's not to say you shouldn't pursue your dreams, only that when you make that step, make sure it's the right step for you, in all aspects of your life. The more basic question may be, are you unhappy in your current job? Great pay is one thing, but from the sound of it, your long hours are leaving you "dog tired" and uninspired. Is it worth it? Only you can decide that, but in the meantime, you still need to be able to pay the bills. Trust me, bad credit is far worse than a bad painting.

On the bright side, you should feel lucky that you DO feel passionate about something. You'd be surprised how many people aren't passionate about anything (I happen to have a passion for fashion in case you hadn't noticed). If you really want to pursue the art of art, then go for it! But start with some hard work and careful exploration. Find out about the galleries in your area that carry local work, and what it would take to get your foot in the door (how many pieces you would need, if your art is the type of art they show, going rates, etc.). Heck, these days you can even put stuff on Ebay and see if it sells! If this really is your true passion you can make it happen, just be aware that living as an artist and making a living as an artist are two different things that can sometimes mix like oil and watercolor.

Your best bet might be to try a middle path, like finding a job in the art world that uses both your creative capacities and your executive know-how. Have you considered working for a gallery, or starting one of your own? Perhaps there are other avenues to pursue that would let you do more of what you love without having to gamble next month's rent on that one big sale.

So I say, keep your day job (for now), or look for one that lets you do what you love while building your portfolio.

Go get 'em Gauguin!


Dear Zelda,

Last summer I visited Europe and noticed how many people took their dogs everywhere including restaurants and work. While one or two of my friends can take their dogs to work here in this country, my company won't let me bring my dog to my office. I work in a cubicle doing computer work, and my dog would be a comfort to me and would sit quietly. I don't like leaving him at home all day. Any suggestions on how I might convince my employer to let dogs into our job arena?

Dog At My Job

PS. By the way, I saw you on the Nat'l Geographic Channel's program, "Dogs With Jobs." You were terrific! My dog would like to be your APPRENTICE!

Dear Dog At My Job,

Thanks for the Kudos on the show. It's always fun to be in front of the cameras, especially when they let me eat ice cream bars to keep me happy! I had heard that people's attitudes toward dogs at work were very different in Europe, and I think it's great that they are more open to letting us pups prowl around. By the way, do European dogs walk on the other side of the sidewalk? (I always wondered that.)

Now, given the fact that you live in America and not Europe, you may have a tough time with this request. Convincing an employer to allow us dogs into the work place is a fabulous idea, but fabulous ideas sometimes have a way of taking a back seat to "reality bites." But hey, it's worth a shot right? I always say, "If you don't ask, you'll never know."

I suggest you start with your boss. Suggest a "bring your pet to work day" once a month. This could be a great way to start the wheels in motion and get people talking. Speaking of talking, it might be wise to find out if other co-workers in your company feel the same way you do. I'm not saying start a union Norma Rae, but getting others on board will help your boss see that this isn't just about one person who misses their dog, but a movement, if you will, of pet owners throughout the building who not only work hard but also love their animals very much. Who knows, since you won't have to run home to feed and walk your pets, maybe productivity will rise and you can all put in longer hours (a little FYI...don't volunteer this one).

Just make sure that when you finally do get the chance to bring Rover on over, that his disposition is a good fit for the office environment, and that he is on his best behavior. You don't want him jumping up on the boardroom table and chewing up the blueprints until at least the second or third visit. Also, make sure that you give him plenty of chances to go to the bathroom, and can provide him with his normal routine of food and water like he would get at home. Let me tell you, it can be a lot of extra work having a dog around the office, but if you are prepared for it, there's nothing like it.

Unfortunately I'm not currently in the market for an apprentice, but I love your dogged determination. Maybe someday we'll put together some doggie reality TV, and your dog will be on the top of my list!