Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Temp Job Trumped the Permanent One

Way back in the last century, I worked at a bookkeeping service that no longer exists. (Come to think of it, a lot of places where I formerly worked no longer exist. But I digress.) Among other things, I processed payrolls, payroll tax returns, and monthly profit and loss write-ups for small businesses.

I liked the work, and I liked my co-workers. I also liked the majority of our clients. Most of them were sole proprietors who provided some type of service. The clients generally were pleasant, unpretentious individuals.

However, there were a couple things I did not like. To begin with, the owner’s good friend had developed the bookkeeping program we used. QuickBooks it wasn’t—not even close. As far as I could determine, no other business in the universe used the John Doe bookkeeping software. There was no point in listing it on a resume. It was not a transferrable skill.

Fortunately, the single-entry software was fairly easy to learn. I understood it by the third day on the job. Unfortunately, I never understood some of the clients. As nice as they were, too many of them were often frustrating to work with. Why? Well, I really, really would have liked to complete their write-ups in one day, but I generally couldn’t. Why not? They consistently failed to send us Something Very Important at the beginning of the month.

All too often, the other bookkeeper and I would start processing an account only to discover that the client had forgotten to include his or her sales figures, bank statement, or payroll information. We would do what we could using the available records; then that account would be exiled to the Missing Records Table where it generally vegetated for days. Or sometimes weeks.

If we were lucky, the client would bring us whatever we needed within a reasonable length of time, say five or six days. If the item was about three weeks overdue, the office manager would go out and attempt to snag it for us. That usually worked. However, there were a few times when the client surrendered the missing record just before we were due to get next month’s work.

I suspected that few, if any, of our clients had ever taken a class in bookkeeping or accounting. I often wondered how some of them stayed in business. I decided that they were probably great at providing services to their customers. However, I was fairly certain that, in the long run, their great customer service skills wouldn’t compensate for their lack of knowledge about good accounting practices.

After eighteen months, I decided it was time to move on. I wanted to find a job where I could finish the majority of my projects on the day I started them. And I needed to get experience in using software applications that I could list on a resume.

So I left the bookkeeping service and registered with several temp agencies. Within a week, I landed my first assignment: a short-term job at a company that published craft books and craft instruction pamphlets.

The woman at the temp agency seemed rather vague about what I would be doing. When I pleasantly demanded details, she mumbled that she thought I would be “doing something with accounts receivable invoices.” That seemed like a good opportunity. I had over ten years experience in the accounts payable area, but my experience with receivables was next to nothing.

As it turned out, the job had nothing to do with accounts receivable or any other form of accounting. Upon checking in with the supervisor, I was escorted to the warehouse, handed a pile of packing slips, and directed toward what seemed like an endless number of shelves stuffed with craft publications.

Well, that was a surprise and not exactly a pleasant one. But I decided to be a good sport. After all, I wanted more assignments, hopefully ones that involved an office environment.

I worked at the publishing company for a week and a half. Assembling orders was physical work, and I was tired by 5 p.m. But I also felt really good at the end of the day. Why? Well, because I could complete the projects I started that day, and I could start fresh with new projects the next morning.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Mornings at Starbucks

This morning at Barnes and Noble, I overheard a woman complaining about the cost of her Starbucks habit. I doubt if anyone is forcing her to buy a nonfat, venti latte with a splash of syrup and three shots of espresso five days a week. I suspect that millions of people all over the world drop a small fortune at Starbucks during the work week. I think I used to be one of those people. I’m not anymore.

For over five years, I stopped at my friendly neighborhood Starbucks every morning on my way to work. With rare exceptions, I always ordered a tall, decaf, nonfat, vanilla latte. Once or twice a week, I also bought something to eat, usually a muffin or croissant.

Ordering the same drink every day made it easier for me, the cashier, and the people in line behind me. To expedite matters further, I paid with my personalized, yes personalized, Starbucks Gold card. I didn’t get a discount on my purchases, but there were perks associated with my Gold card membership. The vanilla syrup was free, and after I purchased fifteen drinks (which took about three weeks), Starbucks snail mailed me a coupon for a free drink.

My Starbucks habit probably cost me between fifteen and twenty dollars a week. Well , there goes my reputation for being, um, a bit frugal.

Why did I spend the money? Quite frankly, hanging out at Starbucks was a ritual I needed before going to work. For fifteen or twenty minutes every morning, I could relax, sip my latte, and make notes about writing projects or chat with other customers. During that last year, my mornings at Starbucks were the calm before facing the storm of what was all too often a very stressful work day.

These days I don’t go to Starbucks very often. I’m retired from that stressful job, so the necessity of psyching myself to go to work is gone. Since I bought my Nook e-reader, I usually hang out at the Barnes and Noble café two or three times a week. I don’t miss Starbucks all that much. I don’t miss my vanilla lattes at all. I can still get them at the Barnes and Noble café.