February 20, 2002
Acme Soil

miles to go: 1,950.01

Kevin The New Guy is unhappy because I open his mail.

"Is this company policy or something?" he pouts, as I bring him his daily stack of invoices, lab supply catalogs and Mold Mitigation Magazine ... all of it opened, all of it date-stamped and sorted into neat little piles. 

I smile sweetly and reply that yes, as a matter of fact, Dirt Company policy dictates that I open every piece of incoming mail, regardless of who it is addressed to.

"That's not how we did it at Acme Soil," Kevin sighs.

Apparently there are a lot of differences between the way we do things here at The Dirt Company and the way they do things over at Acme Soil. Our timesheet program is more complicated. Our coffee blend is too "dark." Our office supply catalog isn't as comprehensive, our parking lot is too difficult to navigate, and our heating/cooling system exacerbates his allergies.

Don't even get him started on our accounting procedures.

Kevin is a nice guy. I like him. I'm sure he doesn't mean to sound like a big grumpy inflexible baby. Making the transition from one workplace to another  --  especially when you've been with your previous employer for any length of time  --  is tough for anybody. It's a lot like I imagine moving to a foreign country must feel: the water tastes funny, everybody speaks the language more fluently than you do, and for the first few days you need a map to find the bathroom.

I feel his pain.

Of course, I got lucky this time. My transition from The Totem Pole Company to The Dirt Company, four months ago, was swift, seamless and relatively trauma-free. (Although let's face it: any place I "transitioned" to, after three years of Franz  --  even if it had been the Fecal Research Department of the Diaper Sterilization Plant  -- would have felt like a career upgrade.)  But it hasn't always been this easy. When I came to The Dirt Company last fall, I brought with me twenty-plus years' experience as The New Girl in the Office ... and some of those workplace transitions were more painful than others. If all of this experience has taught me anything, though, it's to lay low, keep your mouth shut and blend as much as possible during those first few weeks. (Secra's Rule #43,897,621: No complaining about anything at the new job until there are at least three people newer than *you.*)

Kevin hasn't had it quite so easy. After all, he has already worked for the best company in the entire history of mankind, forcryingoutloud!  (When you've worked for ACME SOIL, where else is there to go but down??) His professional identity seems to be all wrapped up in where he used to be, instead of where he is now.

I think that's a mistake.

It reminds me of the time the principal at our elementary school introduced the new girl to our fifth grade class. "This is Kathy P.," said Mr. Wood, smiling pleasantly -- getting ready to deliver his patented "I'm sure you'll all give her a warm welcome" New Kid speech -- at which point the new girl interrupted him in order to announce "But I want everybody to call me 'Tory.' " Apparently 'Tory' was her nickname at her old elementary school, and she wanted to continue the tradition here at her new school. 

And we tried. We really did. For the first couple of weeks we obligingly called her "Tory," even though it did not roll trippingly off the eleven-year-old tongue. After a while, we started to forget. We called her 'Kathy' more often than we called her 'Tory,' until eventually nobody ever called her 'Tory' at all anymore, and eventually she quit reminding us about it. 

Later that same year, our class went on a field trip to The Seattle Reperatory Theater, along with all of the other fifth grade classes in the school district. As we stood in the parking lot, waiting for our bus to pick us up and take us back to school after the play, a group of kids from Kathy's old school saw her standing in our line. They got all excited and started waving and jumping up and down and shouting "Tory! Tory! Tory!" ... as if they'd just spotted Bridget Hanley standing in line with us.

I still remember the look on her face. See? it said. I used to be Tory.

That's what I think of whenever I hear Kevin talking about Acme Soil again.

I don't mean to suggest that we completely relinquish previous identity in favor of current identity. Not only don't I think it's smart or necessary or practical ... I don't believe it's possible. (Take it from Miss Fire Prevention 1970.)  Still, I'm one of those people who firmly believes in the old adage that says When you are through changing, you are through. I think this is especially true in the workplace. It doesn't mean I'm happy about it all the time. To this day, I still miss all the Alone Time I had at The Telephone Company. I miss working on Saturday mornings at The Doomed Newspaper, and then having all day Monday off.  I miss the deep employee discount at The Knife Factory. I even  --  god help me  --  miss some things about The Totem Pole Company.  (My office. My office DOOR. Not having to keep my office door LOCKED at all times.) But hey: what are you going to do? Change is going to happen ... with or without you.

Personally, I would prefer to pretend it was *my* idea.

In the meantime, I believe that eventually Kevin is going to settle down and settle in and shut up already about Acme Soil. Just today I brought him his mail again -- opened, date-stamped and sorted, as usual -- and this time he didn't sigh or roll his eyes or look exasperated.

All he did was say "Thank you."

In fact, I have no doubt that Kevin is going to like it just fine here, once he gives the place a chance and starts feeling comfortable with our procedures and our policies (and our Peet's Dark Mocha Blend). Who knows? Maybe someday, somewhere down the long, winding career highway of Kevin's life, some other hapless SecraTerri will bring him his mail  --  unopened, unsorted, unstamped  --  and will hear him sigh "That's not how they used to do things at The Dirt Company."



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