Cube Farm Life

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Have you ever had to go from sitting in a nice cushy office with one employer to switching to a cubicle with another?

Let me tell you. It is not easy.

I. miss. my. office.

In my current role, I get to work in an ultra-modern, brightly and naturally lit building with fully equipped gyms, convenient dry cleaning, fully stocked cafeteria, flex hours and…….yup, cubicles. Everyone, from the person in the mail room to director level folks sits in one of these.  I am not claiming to be above sitting in a cube. Before my last job, I had always sat in them as well. But trust me, after a 4 year stint, a girl gets accustomed to certain things. Such as  having a door and being able to shut it on occasion. Lol.

All of the below happened to me in my first 2 weeks of being in a cube:

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Life Lessons Away From Home: Where There’s a Will…

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I love traveling. It has truly been the most rewarding part of my corporate career. Whether it’s from observing different behaviors at the airport or the varied experiences I have had in different parts of the world, I have learned a great deal.  I have been fortunate enough to visit almost all 50 states of the U.S., as well as most continents. I am appreciative of this, seeing as I couldn’t afford to have such a vast travel repertoire on my own dime. Even though I am there to do the company’s bidding, I manage to take one or two days to take in the sights.

One of my most enjoyable travels was my business trip to Brazil in 2013. ( I wish that I had waited and  gone in 2014 so I could stay for World Cup..oh well). The whole week, including evenings had been spent locked away in conference rooms. By Friday, I was eager to break free and make the most of the weekend. I had so much fun exploring the popular tourist sights like the Cristo statue and Pao de Acucar, finding handmade treasures off the beaten path, and simply basking in the sun while laying on the Ipanema beach.

Amidst all the fun, one thing struck me. In my humble opinion, these were the friendliest people I had ever met. Even though I speak two words of Portuguese and the people I met barely spoke English, I still felt genuinely welcomed by everyone I met.  Whether it was asking for directions or getting a drink at the bar, there was an element of patience as they would try to communicate using one or two English words and mostly hand gestures.

I remember Ana, a middle-aged woman I met while waiting for my flight from Sao Paolo to Rio de Janeiro.  She spoke no English but kept speaking to me in Portuguese even though it was clear I didn’t know what she was saying. After I exhausted my knowledge of Portuguese, getting past the basic desculpa and muito bom,we were stuck. That’s when I whipped out Google translate, aka life saver. We had a pleasant hour-long conversation about life (work, marriage /divorce, family, etc.) in which she told me I was too beautiful to be single (lol), and she wanted me to marry her son.

On the flip side, my experiences in London and France were … mixed at best. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some nice and welcoming people. But I did meet many more that were abrupt and sometimes rude.  Many years ago, I walked into an antique store in Strasbourg and spoke to the woman behind the counter.  I asked her a question in English and she responded in French. I then attempted to communicate using my broken (taught-in-high-school-by-a-Nigerian-professor-with-a-thick-accent) French and she pretended not to understand me. Frustrated, I gave up and just kept browsing.  A minute later, I heard her speak fluent English to someone else in the store! Although I didn’t know of Google translate at the time, I doubt it would have helped me.

I have had shops in Central London look at me, not as a potential customer, but as someone who was lost when I walked into their stores. Even before words were spoken, I was met with impatience, an unwillingness to try.

While language difference can sometimes be a barrier, it is not an insurmountable one . Remember the movie Love Actually? Though fictional, the interaction and ensuing love between Colin Firth’s and Lucia Moniz’s characters exemplifies this. You can sense a person’s spirit, their desire to connect and communicate,  even when you cannot understand their words.  Once this desire is there, you will find a way to understand each other.

I have heard some friends express reluctance to travel to places where English is not widely spoken. They resist going to places outside of the U.S and Western Europe for fear that they will not be able to communicate or have fun. Do not let this stop you. Get out there with an open mind and take in the culture.  You’ll be amazed at how easy it can be to communicate …. especially if you both really want to!

It’s Partyyyy Time! Or is it? …

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Last weekend, I attended a Nigerian party in the LA area with some family and friends.  In true  Owambe fashion, the “turn up” was real.  Food, drinks, music, “money spraying” were in full effect and everyone truly had an awesome time.  We partied into the wee hours of the morning and the next day, I woke up sore and achy from dancing to Wizkid in my high heels.  I remember at many points that night feeling like…myself!  I ate enough jollof rice to feed four big women and then proceeded to dance and sing at the top of my lungs with friends when Sir Shina Peters played, as it reminded me of my childhood.

There was no worry of eating or drinking too much as I was surrounded by love and friends and family.

This is what I call a party.

Now, contrast this with the so-called parties hosted within Corporate America.  Sigh…

I have had the dis pleasure  of attending more than a few corporate parties.  I shouldn’t even call them parties really.  Events is more like it.  Take the Christmas party at one of my previous employers, a very conservative Accounting firm. Here are a few of my favorite observations:

  •  Deciding how to dress for one of these is almost impossible. The task at hand is to find an outfit that is not too short, not too long, sexy but not too sexy, flattering but not too form fitting, conservative but not business-suit like, etc… Inevitably, I end up with the contents of my closet scattered all over my bed before I decide on something.
  • The menu is another one.  Now, I have been described by some as “bougie”, but let me tell you, sometimes you just want food you are familiar with.  Somehow, my definition of party does not include some dried up veal or King Fish-caviar or drinks such as Cynar and Punt e mes. Often, after these “parties”, I have been known to stop by the nearest drive-through or Chipotle on my way home.
  • Now everyone knows that at these dinners, there is a fun end and a boring end of the table. The fun end is where you sit with your peers who are hopefully not arrogant, self-important jerks.  Here, you can maintain some semblance of real talk and not have to worry whether you used the salad fork to eat the main course.  No one cares too much. As long as you manage to remember to drink out of your own glass and not that of person next to you (haha, this happened!), then you should be ok.
  • If you find yourself on the boring end then… Via con Dios! Here is where real talk ends as you are seated next to some big shot, or big shot wannabe who continues to crack dry jokes you do not understand, but you are obliged to laugh anyway.  The kind of fake laughter that makes the side of your face hurt and can cause facial spasms later.  Here, the steak is very rare, almost raw and although said big shot is allowed to order endless bottles of wine, you, my fellow dual citizen, dare not exceed your 2 glass maximum!!
  • Here’s one that never ceases to amaze me!  Some of my fairer-skinned compadres still manage to turn all the way up at these events! Invariably, someone ends up (a) sitting on a partner’s lap, (b) making out by the bathroom,  (c) grinding obscenely in the name of dancing, (d) telling very, very inappropriate, sometimes racist or sexist jokes, (e) passing out (f) drinking way too much, which I guess causes all of the above.
    These have all happened at these events and the thing is, in many cases the perpetrators not only remain employed, but this seems to have absolutely no negative consequence on their careers.

I often think of how it must feel to be that free.  To know that you will be ok, no matter how much you screw up.  The stern faces of my Nigerian parents and grandparents come into focus in those moments, reminding me of how much they toiled so I could be here, rubbing shoulders with them. I used to think that I would stop feeling this way once I rose to the level of management and was no longer at the bottom of the totem pole.  Now as a mid-level manager, I know this feeling will never change.  I will never be able to completely relax in this world.

So no matter how many times they call it Christmas party, or Thanksgiving potluck or company picnic, or corporate happy hour, it will never be a real party for me.

What are some of the things you have observed at company parties? Please share your thoughts.