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Unread 08-24-2009, 09:15 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Hello all, definitely have a few cents to put in here:

Originally Posted by JaneYoung
For a few years now, I've been concerned about the cynicism of young mentors who have been through the FIRST program. I am concerned (to a lesser degree) - by the cynicism in college age students in general - but when one attaches the label, mentor, to their name, then I naturally begin to think about how cynicism, bitterness, and even ugly attitudes can affect the younger students that they mentor or say that they do. Not all college students or college mentors are cynical, bitter, or ugly but there are enough that I have had concerns. So I've wondered what happened to the attitude towards GP. Was it never there or did it disappear over time or as the students became mentors?
I have worked in retail for ~4 years now, and faced a wide variety of customers from an equally wide variety of cultural backgrounds. This is not to forget I was in robotics as a student for 4, and more or less an adviser/local team volunteer while I was hitting the books the first year of college; helping a recall campaign (spearheaded by someone who underestimated the uphill battle they were getting into looking back on it, thought passion would work just fine) in the district for the second.

Professionalism in any form is an exploitable tool. If that statement does not say "I am a natural cynic" let me lay out what formulates this, based off of real examples:

1.) Team X's sponsor (with $$$) wants Y event to go Z way. Team X's coach gets this memo. The Z way is a bit counter-productive to the ultimate goal of some experience A being granted to X's members. Coach, being the professional he/she is, has some options.
a.) Play along with this full steam. Experience A is only accomplished by the students who are literally starving for it or find a backroute.
b.) Negotiate (with caution, often requires persistence/gut and knowledge of when to back down). Experience A has a better chance of being accessible to all members. Members, and overall team, are happier (hopefully) than they would have been.

2.) Customer comes up to counter or me, wants B done. B requires C. One of many things can occur here, a few listed below.
a.) C was at one time never required. I may have, or may not know this simply by being employed for D years (notice how they either move experienced people... maybe let go of them. Then of course there is new employment. This, as far as I can tell, is a great (not necessarily good) mechanism). In either case, customer is a little uncomfortable about this, and may either go along or find an alternative option.
b.) Customer had made a phone call regarding step C. Customer service personnel on the phone, disregarding what it says both on slip or site E regarding step C says do action F in store to the customer before they arrive, which I and practically all of management are unequipped to do EFFICIENTLY (I mean, we can do it, but it will take a while to figure it out, since we RARELY ever do this, and no one has had good training on how to override C). Outcome varies.
c.) C just might require a bit of time. Considering all of the retail world promises fast service, there is a bit of an undercurrent of 'instant gratification' that eats away happy points I'll call it. I do what I need to do as quick as humanely possible, and pray the customer leaves satisfied, regardless of time consumed.

3.) Customer comes up to counter, I end up asking "How's it going?" twice or three times, instead of just once. I try to engage in some short conversation other than the usual pitching. Both things: somewhat to no avail. I fully understand that I am there to do business, work, my job, be a cog for the retail machine. But this is a human machine I constantly think to myself, where is the social aspect to this? Where is the life in it, the spirit that drives it? Somedays I just wish I could tell the customer to "BREATHE" for once without much risk. "You made it, you will get what you need to done. Just relax and let me handle it. I know this machine well."

Looking at just this (only a part btw), it is easy to build up layers of cynicism and get a bit depressed over it. The key though, at least from my perspective at this point in life, is to realize that in all likelihood, fighting these issues will not acquire the desirable goal, and progress in these areas is a bit of a myth in the short term. You must deal with this, and crack a smile somehow. Thank you Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson (It's a Great Day For America Everybody!!!), the Wait Wait Don't Tell Me cast, Jay Leno, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, MetaFilter, Dilbert, XKCD, faith in God, and many many more for giving the tools to do this on a regular basis. Only then will cynicism die (Courage the Cowardly Dog comes to mind...).

Admittedly, cynicism consumed me for a short while as I drilled through community college and still managed to crank out A grades on 18, 19, and 15+Lots of reading credit hour loads. This summer, I have been working hard to develop an attitude that can deal with this residual cynicism, to a good bit of success. I still have some facts and cynical myths to sort out, but this battle is becoming close to done and over with. Slowly but surely the tin foil hat is coming off and being put in a melting pot.

Slowly, but surely, the world is looking a bit better. Slowly, but surely, I am developing a drive that can carry me and eventually those I come into contact with to do good great things. Slowly, but surely, Gracious Professionalism is coming back into view, with the disconnect being casted away along with the cynicism and events that led to it pass away.

Slowly, but surely, so long as I do not lose focus and will, the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi becomes functional and meaningful, and somewhat of a definition of GP.

Jane, I hope I was not too long winded, and I hope I gave you an answer to your question: my attitude towards Gracious Professional is a progressing development encapsulated here. Peace.
Joeseph P. Smith
University of Michigan - Informatics (B. Sci. 2012)
General Purpose Programmer - Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (CILER) at NOAA-GLERL
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