“Nobody wants me.”

I had had a great day.  Work was super: I was in a good mood; many, many nice things happened; I was in a zone.  It was clear that I am good at what I do and, especially when I was talking up the blog, it was clear that I’m in the right place at the right time.  One fabulous young woman who I did not recognize in spite of her beauty said “I read your blog and I just want to tell you that you have a brilliant mind.”  Now how can you not feel good on a day that you get feedback like that?  And I was feeling good.

Today I really was in the zone - and time flew.  Then there was this evening.

Today I really was in the zone – and time flew. Then there was this evening.

From work I went to Tae Kwon Do.  Now I know that people like me there.  I’m new and lots of people don’t know me.  But I get lots of sweet feedback from people.  Recently the instructor Amy said to me,”You’re the sunshine of this school.” Now I can’t totally swallow that.  It feels a little strong and she can be effusive, but maybe something like that is true – maybe I am a positive presence in the school, that one I can buy.  That same day last Saturday, Diego (a senior student) said to me “When I was sitting up on the judges’ table for the testing, sometimes all I could see was your smiling face, cheering people on.”  Now that one I can totally buy, because that was the truth.  I got very happy watching people succeed.

So how could it be that at class tonight I was recurringly buffeted by wave after wave of “Nobody wants me?”  There were lots of opportunities for us to pair up. I ended up being the last picked two or three times.  I know I was not being super-assertive about finding partners.  And I know that people like to work with higher belt ranks during these drills.  The teenagers go looking for other teenagers.  For one whole section, I was the only one of my low (white-yellow) belt level on the mat and I really had nothing to offer these higher belt levels in the way of instruction.  Why would they not be looking for somebody else?  And why on earth would I want to take it personal?

The anchors of this go deep.  It’s in the human condition.  The Buddhists call it “conditioned mind” – that wants to put us down, wants to separate us, wants to make us feel alone.  It’s human.  So even this is a sign of how much I belong – belong to the human species.

Do even animals go through this?

Do even animals go through this?

Tae Kwon Do is going to be a tremendous vehicle for studying my conditioning – conditioning like “I can’t do this” (https://rlcol.com/2015/02/24/the-i-cant-do-it-voice/) and now the conditioning of “I don’t belong here” or “They don’t want me”.  I want to welcome this as a chance to work out my stuff, a chance to get free.

Amy Dexter is always announcing that the purpose of our classes is to have fun.  I’ll have fun as much as possible – but when I’m miserable I’ll try to be miserable in all the just-right ways.

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“I need a supervisor!!”

Sophie (not her real name – I can’t remember her real name, but would not use it here anyway) is a piece of work – demanding, impatient, self-focused, disrespectful.  Sheri Lynn had come over from her quiet register to help me bag (and to hang out with me – we do like to do that, her and I). She jumped in to help Sophie when she said “This mayonnaise has canola oil” (or something like that) – “I want one without canola oil.”  Sheri went off in search.

When Sheri Lynn had been gone for a while and a line was accumulating in my lane, I said to Sophie, “I’m going to suspend your transaction and wait on some of these people – then I’ll put you first in line when Sheri gets back.”  “No you will not.  I’m in line – I’m the next in line.  I’ve been waiting – I’m not going to wait any more.”  I caved.  I gave sympathetic looks to the people in my line and waited for Sheri Lynn.

Not!  I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Not! I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Then I heard Sheri on the overhead speaker paging for a grocery team member.  I decided that was it – getting this help could still take her a while.

I looked at Sophie and said, “Sheri Lynn has paged for a grocery team member – I’m suspending your transaction” and I did that, as she was loudly protesting that I had better not.  By this time I was totally seeing red – and I did the very best thing I could have done, which rescued the situation, and which followed a playbook that I had learned on the job here: I hollered for help.  I said to Sophie – “I’m calling a supervisor to help with this.” I turned to face the office and with a volume that I have shaped to be just loud enough to be heard in the office, but not too startling to customers in between me and the office – though I can’t guarantee that this time it wasn’t a little extra-loud – said “I need a supervisor!!”  My blood pressure started to drop as soon as the words were out of my mouth.

Perhaps my voice did have an extra edge of urgency, because Tiffany came out of the office almost immediately.  As she approached my register, I met her part way (so as to be out of Sophie’s earshot) and said, “You’re going to have to take this over – I’m losing it with this woman.”

I grew up on the Lone Ranger.  He never lost his cool - and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting - fabulous! I've spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger.  Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I grew up on the Lone Ranger. He never lost his cool – and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting – fabulous! I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger. Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I gave her the suspend slip and she, with a voice that was equal parts reassuring and take-charge, told Sophie that she would take her over to the customer service desk and they would get everything straightened out.  I was still hyper-charged from the stress of being so angry with nowhere to put it, but I felt good about the way it had been resolved and my stress continued to reduce with the next few typically-nice customers.

I came away from this experience with two big insights.  The first one fell into place almost immediately.  It’s good to ask for help.  A lot of my conditioning would not lean this way – would say you’ve got be strong and self-reliant, handle your own problems, etc. – but I have learned better over the years.  Asking for help is good – and expecting that you will get that help is wonderful, and even better is believing that it will be competent help (even in the body of a 23 year old) and come without a price to pay for asking.

There’s another insight that didn’t come together for me until about 8:30 this evening, two hours after leaving work and right after Tae Kwon Do class had gotten me de-stressed, in my body and out of whatever useless strains of thinking had been still operating before the class.  I had been thinking that the worst outcome from my encounter with Sophie in the morning would have been for me to say or do something that got me fired.  And maybe I still think that would have been the worst outcome, but there’s another that’s at least a close second.

Perhaps the worst outcome would have been for Sophie to get further injured.  Nobody treats others as badly as Sophie does (and Sheri Lynn and Tiffany each shared with me their histories of run-ins with her) unless they are in pain.  A Course in Miracles says that people are always either offering love or asking for it.  Sophie is asking for it.  “Please love me even while I’m being mean to you.”  I didn’t have the presence of mind to love her in the middle of our negative encounter, but I did have the presence of mind to not say anything disrespectful or incendiary.  Holding the line with her – suspending the transaction, not making others wait unnecessarily – this was good.  Hurting her by mean language, loud tones or any kind of disrespect would not have been good.

Through the rest of the day, when staff (not customers) asked me about my day, I referred back to this encounter.  In its own funky, complex way, it definitely was a highlight of my day.

I want to be free…

The conversation started over Karen’s purchase of Lilly’s chocolate bars, one of my fav products.  We agreed that neither of us likes stevia – which makes it so surprising that we both like Lilly’s, which is sweetened with stevia.  I say it’s the dextrin, a good ingredient that I reckon counteracts the stevia taste.

We talked about our respective struggles to stay off of sugar.  Karen is on a roll with being sugar-free.  I’ve had two good days, after a disastrous day on Sunday.  (I bought three gooey pastries from my store’s wonderful bakery case, intending them to last three days – and devoured all three of them on the way home.  Horrifying.)

My addiction to sugar is like my addiction to cigarettes - is like any other addict.

My addiction to sugar is like my addiction to cigarettes – is like any other addict.

“It’s not just being sugar-free”, she said. “I want to be free period.”  This really spoke to me: “When I’m into sugar, an addict inside of me takes over.  I am driven by the addiction and live from one sugar fix to the next.  It’s a lot like when I was a smoker.  Maybe the worst part of it was the craving, the living from one fix to the next, the lack of freedom.”

With cigarettes, worse than the disastrous physical effects was the emotional effect, letting the addict in me take over.

With cigarettes, worse than the disastrous physical effects was the emotional effect, letting the addict in me take over.

“I want to be a bigger person”, she said.  “Right up there with staying off of sugar is to get enough water in my daily diet.  They say we should consume a gallon of water a day.  That’s actually pretty hard.  I thought I drank a lot of water, but when I measured it I came up way short.  Nowadays I start my day with two quarts of water – and still it’s a push to reach the gallon.  When we are dehydrated, we get tense and tight.  How many of us experience a lot of that in our days?  What if we knew that it was caused by lack of water?”

In the same binge shopping trip where i bought the three pastries, I also bought a 12 oz. "Mexico Coke" , supposedly a healthy alternative to regular Coke because it uses real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.  Devotees - I guess including me - like to claim that it tastes way better and not as sweet.  Now sugar is a hero.  I'm keeping this bottle in the frig - I have not found it in me to pour it out.  I bet I'm going to use it.

In the same binge shopping trip where i bought the three pastries, I also bought a 12 oz. “Mexico Coke” , supposedly a healthy alternative to regular Coke because it uses real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Devotees – I guess including me – like to claim that it tastes way better and not as sweet. Now sugar is a hero. I’m keeping this bottle in the frig – I have not found it in me to pour it out. I bet I’m going to use it.

Karen inspired me.  I want freedom.  I want to be free of my sugar addiction.  At work, I will sip on my morning 16-oz. mug of coffee for two hours – two hours without water.  I want to be open to changing some of my most beloved habits in the name of freedom.

A highlight? That question.

It had been a hard day – the third day in a row of standing eight hours at the cash register.  It had been a hard month – five weeks of depression.  Not as depressed as I have recently been, and not as long as I have sometimes been, but five weeks is a long time to be depressed.  And today I was not writing.  The last two days my shift at the cash register had stimulated ideas for blog posts, which I furiously recorded between customers and on my breaks. Today nothing.  Writing brings meaning to  my job – makes me feel like I’m meant to be here.  Absent that, my cashiering time can feel empty.  All  this agonizing is unnecessary – the stuff I write when I write makes it clear that this work has meaning.

But today I wasn’t getting that bit about the meaning.  The guy in front of me was big and muscular in ways that I profile as not sensitive in ways that would make them open to my blog – or to my standard question, “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  I don’t know what prompted me to ask him anyway – maybe I was getting a little desperate to inject some meaning into this day.

His answer blew away my preconceptions.  “The highlight of my day?  Having you ask me that question.  That you might care about my answer.  Some days you just need a dose of that kind of energy.”

Sometimes asking someone what was a highlight of their day can be itself a highlight or even the highlight of their day.

Sometimes asking someone what was a highlight of their day can be itself a highlight or even the highlight of their day.

Suddenly it all had meaning to me – the blog, the question , the job.  I was on fire.  The rest of our relatively brief transaction (he didn’t have a lot of purchases) had a positive charge: I told him I would write this exchange up in the blog, then said I would do it that night.  I started it that night, but am not finishing it until today.

In the next two hours – the end of my shift – I jotted notes for three more blog posts, based on further encounters I had with people.  I came away from my day with three principles:

  1. When things seem meaningless, a meaningful question can turn things around.
  2. Don’t profile people – you don’t know what may come out of them.
  3. We need each other – what helps one may simultaneously help the other,

Pickles and chips

When someone orders a sandwich in our deli, the workers there automatically offer them a little sleeve of bulk Kettle-brand potato chips – pretty good chips.  Or the customer could substitute a pickle, though I don’t think that option is automatically offered each time.

When a customer pulls a pre-made sandwich out of the cooler directly across from the pizza/sandwich station, they are equally eligible for a pickle or chips – but there is nobody there to tell them this.  When I was telling a friend about this situation, they recommended that a sign be put up next to the cooler.  There’s a lot to recommend in this, but I wouldn’t support it.

I want us cashiers to be the one to tell them!

I do have to clarify to people that the chips being offered are not the ones in the fancy packages.

I do have to clarify to people that the chips being offered are not the ones in the fancy packages.

They're bulk chips in little paper sacks - but I make a point to say that they are Kettle brand, a good label.

They’re bulk chips in little paper sacks – but I make a point to say that they are Kettle brand, a good label.

I have for the past several months been on a personal mission to tell people about their pickle and chips – because it’s so satisfying to do this!  When I tell people, “You know you can get a pickle or a little bag of chips with your sandwich?” they very seldom do know this.  They usually respond to my offer in one of three ways, in relatively equal proportion:

  1. They have no interest. “I don’t like pickles and I don’t need the chips.”  I think sometimes they still like being offered – they get it that the store is offering them a little treat for free.
  2. They like the offer, but don’t want it today. They’re in a rush or not in the mood.  Here’s where that sign by the cooler seems like a good idea, but I don’t think it outweighs the pluses of the cashier conveying the info.
  3. They really like the idea – they get enthused. They want to go right back and get their pickle or chips.  I have to slow them down:  “Lets finish the transaction first and then go back.”

To the extent that they have even a little fleeting positive response to this offer, let’s pair it with a human face – maybe even someone they already like – rather than just a sign on the cooler.

And let’s give the cashier the chance to offer something nice to the customer.  We recently cut way back on our discounts to seniors and military, now offering each just one day a week instead of every day.  Even if I believe the company line that this step is taken in service of keeping prices low across the board – every day for everybody – there’s no getting around this move being a loss for cashiers at least as much as customers.

  • We empathize with their loss..

    Who feels good about seniors losing their discount?  And while we're at it, what's up with all the Google Images for seniors being smiling couples or groups - no singles and nobody not smiling.  I chose this Google image because they were less posing for the camera and less attractive than most of the shots.

    Who feels good about seniors losing their discount? And while we’re at it, what’s up with all the Google Images for seniors being smiling couples or groups – no singles and nobody not smiling. I chose this Google image because they were less posing for the camera and less attractive than most of the shots.

  • We bear the brunt of their upset – though, honestly, lots of people have responded with tremendous poise, or blow off steam once and then seem over it.  (Some of the nicest people have responded by being especially bitter about the change.)
  • It is a loss for us because it feels really good to offer people discounts.  I used to really enjoy asking “Do you have any coupons or discounts?”, because there was a much better chance of a yes answer, maybe with a little clarification of what the discounts are.  Now there is much less likelihood of a yes and it’s hard for me to even ask the question.

So let’s not miss this chance to offer something to our customers.  It shows that we care about them – we go out of our way to offer them something nice.  It feels good to do – it takes us beyond just swiping groceries.  What a cheap way to boost the customer’s mood – and ours – and build their loyalty to our store.  And get them to like us cashiers more.  It’s a win all around.

“Sometimes a momma’s gotta do what a momma’s gotta do.”

The woman in front of me was tall, blonde, attractive even with her dark glasses – and about eight months pregnant.  One of her three purchases was a 16-ounce bottle of “Mexico Coke”: Coke made in Mexico with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup – the justification for selling it in this “health food supermarket”.  It was a new concept to me a few months ago, and I’ll acknowledge that I’ve had them three times in those last few months, twice on long road trips.  I rationalized that this was an experiment, to explore our product.  This rationalization held up pretty well the first time, and kind of well the second time – comparing Mexico Pepsi to Mexico Coke – less well the third time, having it during a shift in the store, just because I wanted a shot of energy.

I think that not too long ago you needed to go into a Mexican supermarket to get a Mexican Coke, but they are now present in lots of supermarkets. I still don't know why these colas don't have high-fructose corn syrup - and there is mixed evidence about whether they really are sweetened by sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.

I think that not too long ago you needed to go into a Mexican supermarket to get a Mexican Coke, but they are now present in lots of supermarkets. I still don’t know why these colas don’t have high-fructose corn syrup – and there is mixed evidence about whether they really are sweetened by sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.

I had judgments about this young woman subjecting her baby to all this caffeine and sugar.  My coworker Rex came along just as she was leaving and I allowed myself to vent.  “I hope that Coke isn’t for her.  I just can’t believe that’s a good thing for the baby.”  By that time Maureen (I saw her name in the computer a minute later, when she had entered her frequent shopper number) had come into my line and overheard the conversation.  She was black, 5’8″, maybe 30, gorgeous – and very willing to express her opinions.  “Sometimes a mama’s gotta do what a mama’s gotta do.”  I was taken aback by the strength of her position, especially without me asking for it.  But there was no hostility in her statement, just strength – and a powerful gleam in her eye.

I stammered, “I guess it’s better for her to be energized and happy.”  Maureen was just as strong in this response.  “It’s not about better – it just is.”  This time the Zen-like wisdom of her pronouncement was really undeniable, and I knew I was in the presence of someone who had insights well beyond what I expect from such a young person.  I never knew if any of Maureen’s wisdom on the topic of pregnancy came from experiencing pregnancy herself, though for some reason I projected not – but that this in no way lessened her authority.

Who am I to judge how a woman relates to her pregnancy?  I guess that it will be good for her baby for her to gentle and non-judgmental with herself.  And what about this young woman's choice to not ingest high fructose corn syrup?

Who am I to judge how a woman relates to her pregnancy? I guess that it will be good for her baby for her to gentle and non-judgmental with herself. And what about this young woman’s choice to not ingest high fructose corn syrup?

I did let myself do one little bit of research later in the morning.  When a woman came through my line who was equally pregnant, I asked, “I hope you don’t mind me asking a somewhat personal question, but what are your thoughts about consuming caffeine while you are pregnant?”  She said, “My doctor has told me that once in a while a little caffeine does no harm.”

I like to think of myself as a non-judgmental person, but then that’s a judgment isn’t it?

Killing the bat

“I ain’t givin’ you nuthin’.”  I thought this immediately and unabashedly towards the nasty man next in line at my checkout today.  Immediately after greeting the lovely young woman who was right in front of me, I turned to greet him as the person next in line.  I’ve been taught that it’s good practice to let them know that you see them and are looking forward to serving them, especially if they have been waiting a while and the order in front of them is somewhat extensive.  But greeting this sixtyish guy – well dressed, neatly trimmed beard – did not apparently serve the desired purpose: he only scowled and snarled some words that I couldn’t make out.

This threw me off center. My mood had improved over the course of the day from pretty depressed in the morning .  But my more upbeat mood felt fairly vulnerable – dealing with this hostile man could throw me way off my game. I immediately devised a plan.  I would pay as little attention as possible to this nasty bird, instead focusing all my attention on the lovely young woman.  I would milk as many good vibes as possible from connecting with her – and be filled up with good energy when I needed to deal with him.

The first leg of this strategy went well.  The girl was totally charming and the connection between us was very positive.  I did think, with some measure of delight, that seeing the sweetness unfolding between us might rub this guy’s nose in his own sourness.  By the time she finished up and left, I did feel solid and ready to do battle with this codger.

But the battle I had prepared for did not materialize.  The guy was not mean or nasty – more just limp and self-involved. I followed through on my plan of giving him nothing: I did the basic business questions: “Do you have a frequent shopper number or coupons or discounts with us?  Are you a student or teacher?” (student and teacher discount day)  He answered a glum “No” on all counts.  His order was small and processed quite quickly – then he was gone.

What had happened?  This guy who had started out so hostile, when he reached the head of the line presented just quiet and maybe a little defeated.

About 35 years ago, my wife and I lived in a cute little farmhouse on the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.  It was sweet living in the country, but there were elements of country living for which we were unprepared..  One of these was the bat in our house.  One night, well after dark, my wife ran to me in the living room and somewhat hysterically announced that there was a bat in our bedroom.  I felt a swelling of male bravado and went to the kitchen where I picked up our broom, christened it Excalibur and headed for the bedroom.  But my challenger was not easily dispatched.  I missed him again and again and his attempts to elude me had him sometimes flying just above my head.  Had you asked me, I would probably have denied that I also had gotten kind of hysterical – but it would have been pretty much the truth.

Why have bats been such an archetype of danger in the night?  Why are we so quick to think that a stranger is dangerous?

Why have bats been such an archetype of danger in the night? Why are we so quick to think that a stranger is dangerous?

I had closed the bedroom door so that the bat could not escape to other parts of house, but there were moments when I regretted the intense battle to the death.  I really did not think that the bat had the wherewithal to kill me, but who knows what impact all those vampire movies were having on me.  Finally I landed a direct hit, crushing the bat between the broom and the ceiling, and he crumpled to the floor.  I pushed him around with the broom and he seemed to definitely be dead.  Killed him with one blow – attaboy Majo.  (Never mind the couple dozen missed swings.)

And what was the most salient element as I surveyed my vanquished foe?  How very, very small he was – a mouse with wings.  So fragile that one good shot with a broom killed him.  I felt tremendously sheepish for how much anger and anxiety I had directed towards him.  What kind of threat had he actually ever been?

And so what of my would-be nemesis in the grocery store checkout line?  To what extent had he ever actually been a threat?  What about his scowl and snarl from half-way down the line?  Were they actually directed at me?  Did I read his non-verbal signals correctly at all?  Did he simply have gas?  Or did his mood mellow as he moved towards me?  Did he ask himself, “Why am I so angry at this cashier?”  Did watching the lovely dance between me and the young woman in front of him have some kind of impact?  It could have increased his depression, if that’s what we was wrestling with.

I want to remember this story in a package with my bat story.  I want to not respond with hostility or aggression towards supposed foes who may actually be no threat at all.  I want to observe my own anxiety and see if I can ground myself, discover a peaceful place in myself.  I want to ask myself “Does this person need to be my enemy?”

I want to remember the coaching from A Course in Miracles that every person is always either offering love or asking for love. Including each customer.  Including me.