I was in my second year of college, living in the M.S.U. hostel which was a drabby experience. I knew I’d be needing more work space later so I thought it well to shift out, and so I decided I need to start earning so I could shift out by the next semester. And I’ve done it! Two friends and I are renting a lovely, bright apartment near college. Circumstances are far more enjoyable now. Anyway, I was sitting in our college canteen one day when my friends were talking about an opening at the Red Earth Art Gallery and I enthusiastically went to grab the opportunity. It wasn’t smooth, here’s how it happened:
I went to the gallery, as anyway, they were displaying K.G. Subramanyan’s recent works – so both for the show and meeting the boss. There was a lady sitting at the reception desk, who said the boss was not in, so I left my name and number with her on a yellow post-it, trusting she would hand it over, telling her it was about the vacancy, and hoping for the best. She was a nice lady. And I spoke to her a little, hoping to make an impression even, which would have hopefully made her remember to pass on my message. I honestly felt like it worked.
But I didn’t receive a call anytime that week. I decided to ask around for her number, which I finally got from a senior.
I made the call. I was very nervous, butterflies in the stomach and all that. And when she asked me to “send over my resume and she’ll get back to me when she returns from Mumbai”, I was shy, but my response was honest: “Actually, ma’am, I’m just in my second year right now and I really don’t have much of a resume.”
…”Well, alright then. I’ll return on Friday. Call me then and we’ll set up a meeting.” I called on Friday. She was sick, her husband answered. I called the day after that too, even if I felt annoying. Finally the following Wednesday, she decided she could meet me. I was intimidated by the whole office atmosphere, seeing it for the first time – her dressed so professionally, the height of the ceiling, the cool white walls, the glass, the gloss on everything. In the meeting, I was completely honest. I was also honest about my reference – an ex senior had left the job apparently without saying a word, just stopped showing up, and I heard about it from her. She said she would be cautious that she was my source so we’d start off with a pay of Rs 5000/- month. Agreed. And then, from the following Friday, February 28th, my shifts began: Three hours a day, I could choose my hours (4:30-7:30)
It’s funny. The receptionist I met at the K.G. Subramanyan show was only temporarily volunteering to babysit the paintings. So during our first show where I was made to sit at the reception desk, I was going through stuff in the drawers and guess what I found. My unattended to little yellow post-it with my own name and number on it. It was quite funny. I was glad I persisted finding her number.
It’s been six months. I’ve learned the basics of the workings of an art gallery, what happens pre and post exhibition, and most importantly what words cannot say – time management and how not to be. Be however you are, but do not be inconfident or dishonest of whatever you are and what you can do; do not be forgetful – take notes, maintain a proper book for your job; do not be flaky, or your boss will think you can’t handle it; do not be overbearing – your boss needs to know what you can handle and she will understand; and most importantly, do not be overly-apologetic – she’s said she’s “sick of my sorrys” – apologize too much, and both your boss and yourself will lose faith in your problem-solving abilities.
I’ve made quite a number of mistakes, but I’ve learned. Once, I fucked up so badly, in her scolding me she said “You came here with NO experience, and I took you on anyway because I saw it in you that you could handle this!” That line hit like a dart. I had some work on the eighth floor of the building that day, and decided to walk all the way up an down just to blow off steam. That was a bad one. And the worst? The self-inflicted aftermath of my quit quote. I usually write to her through the gallery’s email address, but here is my forshadowing-resign email:
I thought this only appropriate to write from my own account.. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I regret to tell you that I’ve been considering quitting my job in the gallery.
It was a great learning experience, but the timings are really not working out for me. Now that my third year is on a roll, I’m sorry to say that, as things are getting more hectic, I can’t successfully manage classwork and my shift any longer. My classwork and personal work (though both are almost one and the same) are really at stake.
However, I have a suggestion. I know the documentation work is necessary to continue in a flow, and until you find somebody else, I wouldn’t mind continuing that from home and updating you on it’s progress every two weeks. You can cut my pay to just this project.
I don’t mean to disappoint you. But my studies need to be focused on right now. I honestly thought I’d be able to stay for longer but it’s really unmanageable. And I know college is only going to get more involving from now onwards.
I just wanted to give you a heads up via e-mail. I hope we can meet soon and talk about this face to face.
Thank you for even considering me in the first place, though. You’ve been a very fair boss.
And she replied:
“Sumera, are you in the gallery?”
“What? Why?! I told you to continue with the work till we meet on Monday. I had some jobs to give you today. You can’t be behaving like this, Sumera. Even if you did just decide to take a day off by yourself, you should have told me.”
“…Yes ma’am, I really should have told you.”
“Anyway, let me know when you get there tomorrow and I’ll meet you on Monday.” And then she sent this text:
“As you are working for me currently, it is extremely unprofessional on your side to not have informed me and decided to take a day off from work again. There is no regret in your voice or no apology. I had never expected this from you. Truly shameful.” What happened was, I was trying to avoid apologizing thoroughout the conversation because as she’s pointed out before, it was becoming redundant. It made my tone very careless, I suppose, because along with my thinking, my voice became sort of monotone. Anyway, I replied like this:
“I really apologize for that tone, but since you have pointed it out before, I was trying not to say “I’m sorry” directly. I really meant it when I said “I should have done that”, but I was trying to avoid the phrase. I hope you can forgive my tone.. I meant no disrespect. I do apologize. I’ll be in the office tomorrow and will inform you when I’m there.”
And here I am, posting from my office desktop. I guess from how the phone call went, what I learned most importantly is that it’s terribly necessary to find a balance in your behaviour and what you say. Ration your words and be thoughtful of what exactly you’re saying at all times. Balance. Keep your cool. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed or else, the aformentioned hot mess is an example of a consequence.
Why does this all matter, why am I posting all this? As you can see up there, she’s said things on the lines of “I had never expected this from you” ..time and again. Expectations and image matter in your job, even part time. Forget the whole “top of the ladder”, occupational strata thing… managing your job teaches you to manage yourself – your emotions, stress; managing your job teaches you to contain yourself so as to prove your capabilities, to improve your capabilities and to surpass what you previously were. Image is important here, no matter how menial you find your tasks, for image demands challenges if you hold it up the right way. And challenges teach you about yourself, your potential and your will.
Anyway… With all that said, I’m forfeiting this job because ultimately, I’m here in Baroda to study, and the gap in the day just doesn’t help. Could I have pushed myself to start waking up at 6 and thereby get about ten hours of unbroken work time? Perhaps I could have. But for now, I think I know myself enough to say that wouldn’t work out for me, for many reasons. And there are other jobs out there that I can accomodate better in my schedule. I’m working on that now.
No regrets. Learning to trust my capabilities and moving on.