Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fitting in at work

I went into this job without a lot of expectations.  This was my first job, let alone working around a kitchen.  I wasn't allowed in our kitchen in Hong Kong.  I helped my mom with dishes at home, but I didn't know how to cook.  I wasn't interested in it.  I was, however, serious about doing well at my first job.  It had nothing to do with pride, it was about practicing the work ethnics I learned from my dad.  Regardless of how much I was paid, I wanted to do my job to the best of my ability.

What gave me some ease was that the help-wanted sign said "no experience necessary." I figured everything would have to be taught to me.  I wanted to be a good pupil.  My mom said no one was obligated to help me.  If I wanted help, then I better make it easy for others to offer it.  I tried my best to be a sponge, absorbing as much and as quickly as I could.   If I made a mistake, I immediately apologized and took the lesson home to analyze in my mind.  I would replay a scenario again and again, not only to avoid making the same mistake twice, but also to see how I could handle similar situations more efficiently. 

At the time, I didn't see anything wrong with myself.  My parents told me I was dumb.  My job proved it.  Within a few days of working, I realized that everyone there was more worldly than me, even the part-timers who were around my age.  They knew more about life, about how to deal with unhappy customers, about what to say to the store owners when they called so they knew we were working hard.  I thought to myself, geez, my parents were right.  I was still getting my orientation on the slow lane,  and my co-workers were already zooming by at full speed. 

I felt like I became an undercover detective, secretly observing others' actions and learning from them.  I was very impressed with how my co-workers took care of business. Even on busy days, their actions were seamless.  The job was not complicated, but it could get very hectic.  We were in a popular shopping center, hundreds and hundreds of customers go through our store in a matter of hours.  Seeing how my experienced  co-workers covered each other as a team, and still kept their cool, was inspiring.  It was something I wished I could do myself. 

I shamelessly copied people. The action was not new to me though.  I had to do the same thing when I moved from mainland China to Hong Kong, then again when I immigrated to the States.  This job opened up a new world for me.  In the past, adaptation was to make life easier for myself, but this job required more than that, I had to learn to make life easier for everyone around me. 

One thing I really wanted to know was when to offer help without being asked.  My parents said it was an intuition I lacked.  They tried to teach me, but they said one could not learn how to fight a war on paper.  I needed real experience.  Initially, I did not know what they meant.  I understood the concept because they taught me if A, then B.  But my parents said there was something deeper that I was not catching.  They introduced me to a skill, but it could only be polished through work experience.

It wasn't until I started working that the light bulb went off in my head.  The girls at our bakery were able to work together very well.  "Betty" knew exactly when to stop what she was doing and lend "Sara" a helping hand without a word exchanged.   "Jill" knew to grab our price book and order form as soon as she saw our store manager on the phone, trying to scribble down a wedding order on a piece of napkin.  "Sara" knew to distract a wailing little boy so his mom could concentrate on telling "Betty" what she wanted on her custom cake. 

After analyzing MANY of these little examples, I finally understood what my parents meant.  I got better.  Even my parents said so.  I was no longer a bead on an abacus.  I knew how to take initiatives.  I was able to help out, like the other girls.  I fitted in. 


  1. Undercover detectives aren't dumb! Sounds like you are one of the best undercover detectives in the world. That picture of food looks so delicious!


  2. Thank you! I learned a lot at my first job. I was fortunate, pretty much everyone at the bakery was helpful, there was very little drama. Asian bakeries make very good cakes, one of the things I always look forward to when I visit California or Asia!