unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

50 Ways to Leave Your Employer

Recently Chicago Tonight lost a couple of young staffers to great, new career opportunities.  They were wonderful colleagues and, while very sorry to see them go, I am happy they are doing what all young people should do — explore new paths and learn more about themselves.  Each left graciously; there were teary eyes, good-bye celebrations, and everybody’s sincere wishes for their success.

But when someone leaves a job, I can’t help but think of my favorite passage in literature on the subject.  It comes from Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham.  Philip, the protagonist, has been miserable working as a clerk.  When he decides to leave, he has the following exchange with his immediate supervisor, Mr. Goodworthy:

“For ten months I’ve loathed it all.  I’ve loathed the work, I’ve loathed the office, I loathe London.  I’d rather sweep a crossing then spend my days here.”

“Well I must say, I don’t think you’re very fitted for accountancy.”

“Good-bye,” said Philip, holding out his hand.  “I want to thank you for your kindness to me.  I’m sorry if I’ve been troublesome.  I knew almost from the beginning I was no good.”

“Well, if you really do make up your mind it is good-bye.  I don’t know what you’re going to do, but if you’re in the neighbourhood at any time come in and see us.”

Philip gave a little laugh.

“I’m afraid it sounds very rude, but I hope from the bottom of my heart that I shall never set eyes on any of you again.”

How’s that for going out with candor?  No need for an exit interview, I would say!

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An American Reporter in London–Back When!

All the hoopla about the Bears playing in London brings back a lot of memories from the first time the team played there.  It was back in 1986 when they played the Dallas Cowboys at the old Wembley Stadium.  At the time, I was a reporter for WBBM-TV Channel 2 and was sent to London to do “sidebars” — human interest stories — while the team was there.

Among the things I learned:  unlike their American counterparts, British television crews did NOT eat in their cars between assignments.  As the chief photographer of my crew told me, “If we can’t sit down for a proper bite, Phil, we’d rather not eat at all.”  Wow!

The accepted “personal space” to conduct an interview was much different in England than in America.  Here, chairs are set up just a few feet apart for an interview.  In Britain, my local crew regularly put me at least a couple of yards from the person I was interviewing.  As a result, psychologically, I could barely get a question out.  I just felt too far away.

Americans living there for years joked (and bemoaned) the fact that Brits they had encountered for years at their children’s school, for example, would still not speak to them because they had not been “properly” introduced.  Americans on extended assignment also said that in business settings, Brits did not shake hands nearly as much as Americans and that British men wore a lot less jewelry.  The list goes on.

I wish there’d been a book for me to read like Rules Britannia: An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom by former Brit, now-Chicagoan, Toni Hargis.  Hargis explains the multitude of social differences between the two cultures.  The bottom line of the book:  Britain is not just America with an accent (and conversely, America is not just Britain without one!)

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Keep Those Allusions Coming

Even now when being technologically savvy seems to trump so many other skills, I believe the best grounding is in the liberal arts.  (I have a personal bias toward literature.)  Encountering the writings of great minds is a good way of modeling your own writing and speaking skills.  If nothing else, one’s writing can be enhanced by an occasional literary reference that shows you can, at the very least, connect the dots between what you’ve learned from others and what you’ve experienced personally.

There are several examples of that in the new book I’m reading, Arguably:  Essays By Christopher Hitchens.  For example, in an essay dismissive of Prince Charles and the British monarchy in general, Hitchens writes:

A hereditary head of state, as Thomas Paine so crisply phrased it, is as absurd a proposition as a hereditary physician or a hereditary astronomer.

For those of us not that familiar with Paine’s writings, the allusion serves several purposes:  It makes a point in a way that is relevant and funny, the reader learns something about Paine, and lastly, it shows us that the writer making the allusion has some academic chops and credibility.

Here’s another example.  In an essay about women and humor, Hitchens makes the point that Rudyard Kipling saw through the premise of male humor based on the notion that women are not really the boss, but are mere objects and victims.  It’s from Kipling’s poem “The Female of the Species”:

So it comes that Man, the coward,

when he gathers to confer

With his fellow-braves in council,

dare not leave a place for her.

Not that many people, I bet, can quote some of Kipling’s lesser known works.  Can allusions to one’s learning run the risk of making someone come across as an educated smarty pants?  Probably.  But, what a pleasure it is to have a writer regard his or her readers as adults who are not threatened by someone who’s bright, educated and can turn a phrase.  Smarty pants are okay in my book!

 

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Bite-Sized Intelligence

It’s a luxury to be able to take an occasional trip, and one of its many pleasures is in an airport bookstore purchase.  I did that recently when I picked up a copy of Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens.

Buying an airport book is not easy for me.  I’ve always been suspicious of books that have raised, gold lettering on the cover.  And I don’t easily gravitate toward fiction since–when I’m reading fiction– it’s hard for me to forget that it’s the product of someone pretty much making things up.  (I say that in spite of arguments that fiction can be the greatest vehicle for truth and that no genre contains more fiction than autobiography!)

Arguably is a big book and not cheap, 750 pages at $30. But two things appealed to me about it when I paged through it: first was the range of topics–from women and humor to an airplane ride Hitchens took with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Sean Penn.  The second was the length of the essays–anywhere from two, to six or seven pages; in other words, the perfect length for someone who sometimes only has time to read in bits and snatches.

And Hitchens, regardless of what you think of him, is a great example of the benefits of a liberal arts education. Some examples later.

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