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Quotes to Help You Survive Your Public Service Job
Anyone who has worked in public service, regardless of the business, will know that there are certain people who just get on your nerves. People who, whether intentionally or not, know just how to annoy you and take every opportunity to do so. This compilation isn’t designed to give you any solutions in regards to the problem you’re trying to solve. Each angry patron and overbearing boss is a unique situation, so there is no way I could give you an answer for each. But rather, this article is designed to keep your eye from twitching and perhaps reduce the urge to strangle the person who has asked you the same question for the thousandth time that day.
I’m going to start with a quote from “Dune” by Frank Herbert. It is one that I used to read when ever I was afraid of telling a patron that they were doing something inappropriate and had to leave. In my mind, I always feared a harsh backlash, even when I had no evidence to suggest it would happen. But when it came down to it, it was my job to tell the patron to stop disrupting the people around them. So I would think of this quote:
“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear’s path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Now let’s think about this quote for a second. “Fear is the mind-killer.” Think of your mind as a car and your fear as a parking break. While you can technically drive with the parking break on, you won’t be able to go very fast and it can’t be good for the car. Your mind is going to operate in much the same way. You won’t be able to think as clearly and it will affect everything else you do.
Stick with me here, because the solution for fear can be tied to the solution for frustration and anger. “I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” It can sometimes be difficult to let fears and frustrations just roll off your back. They have a tendency to stick and cling to you as if you were the last island on a flooded world. You’ll want to think about calming techniques. Try taking deep breaths or chanting something in your head. The Buddhists use the chant “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” which is a sort of invocation for personal strength. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Buddhist or not. What we’re striving for in this situation is to have a repeated phrase in your head that drowns out, or re-directs your mind to something other than the frustration you’re feeling. We aren’t trying to ignore the problem, we are just redirecting. Obviously you don’t want to spend all your time and energy being frustrated with the public, so why should you? It isn’t worth it. So if you don’t wish to use the Buddhist chant, you can recite a quote, like the one by Paul Atreides, or a favorite song.
Another way to let the frustration pass and calm yourself down is perspective. Though you may be furious at this exact moment, in a few hours you’ll be perfectly calm, sitting in front of your television with a bowl of popcorn. Or maybe you’ll be out with your friends, expressing how relieved you are to be out of work. Time can sometimes creep by slowly, but the thing we can always rely on is that it’s always moving. Eventually this frustrating patron will be nothing but a memory; one you will forget quickly.
The last part of this quote is one of the most encouraging: “Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” At the end of the day, no matter how much you’ve been through, or how horrible the public was to you; everything you felt will be gone. Emotions come and go leaving little behind to suggest they were ever there. But you will persist. The patron who said you were doing a terrible job doesn’t really matter. It won’t change your day to day life.
Another good thing to remember is that the patron shouting in your face isn’t always angry with you. People bring their problems with them and if you’re in a public service position, there is a good chance that they’re using your services as a last resort. They have been trying to accomplish whatever they’re doing through every means before coming to you. You’re their last hope to print out that school paper, or mail a letter or purchase notecards. So if you are out of paper or closing; you go from a small problem for them to the straw that breaks their back. And you get the back lash. It’s actually quite normal for problems to happen. A business can’t run perfectly all the time, but the public as a whole is very unforgiving of mistakes. Which brings me to another quote:
“When you do something right; people won’t be certain you’ve done anything at all.”
I’m not sure where this quote came from originally but I first heard it on the television show Futurama, as spoken by “God”. It was a quote that really got me thinking, especially for public service. See, if you do everything the way you’re supposed to, then the machine is operating. You could be doing an exceptional job, but chances are no one is going to notice, least of all the patrons. However the moment you or something else screws up and that machine stops working, everyone notices. So in these instances try to remind yourself of all the days that you worked and something didn’t go wrong. Patrons and bosses might not remember those days, but you do, and don’t think you’re a failure just because something went wrong today.
Further Quotes To Help:
I won't go into as much detail as I did with the two above, but below you'll find my personal collection of quotes to help me deal with the public. Each quote is also accompanied by a brief description of how I feel it applies to the situation.
“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.”
I’m not sure where this quote originally came from, but I got it from video game website. It speaks about the importance of holding together under impossible odds, something that you’ll encounter a lot in public service. Very often, everything will work in opposition to you, but in order to show true strength, you must hold together.
“When you begin a journey of revenge,
start by digging two graves:
one for your enemy, and one for yourself.”
In the past I’ve developed hatreds for patrons so profound that I actually started to change little things in order to make their stay less pleasant. It wasn’t until I described this process out loud to someone that I realized how petty it sounded. In reality, my attempts to annoy them just made them angrier which made my job harder, and the amount of satisfaction I got out of messing up their plans was small compared to the guilt of seeing just how sad they really were. If you try to work directly against these people, it will always come back to bite you in the butt.
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies with in us."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I get this a lot; when a reoccurring patron comes into my place of work to again give me the same trouble they always give me. It’s one of those “oh god, not again,” moments. These happen to me constantly so I need to be aware of my perception when they first come in. I always assume that something will go wrong, which it usually does, but how much energy am I wasting worrying about something possibly going wrong? It is better to go about my business as normal and deal with the problem when it happens. Maybe you’ll get lucky and it won’t happen. And even if it does, have faith that you will be able to deal with it.
“It’s like losing your temper. All it means is you’ve lost.”
-Narrator “Sales” by Peter Ho Davis
“Anger is never added to anger. It multiplies.”
-Zits “Flight” by Sherman Alexie
I’ve grouped the above two quotes together because they both concern anger. The first illustrates that when you lose your temper, you are the one who loses. In public service, and most other professions, if you lose your temper, it could lead to losing your job. It’s not about bottling it up, it’s about realizing there is nothing to really be angry about. Yes the person might be annoying you but eventually they will go away and you will be away from the hostile situation. This brings me to the second quote; anger doesn’t add with itself it multiplies, increasing exponentially until there is an explosion. Which is why it is so important to find a way to get rid of it or reduce it before things get out of hand.
“It isn’t about how much you can win, it’s about how many hits you can take and still move forward.”
This isn’t a direct quote from the most recent Rocky movie, but it’s a good one nonetheless. For Rocky he’s talking about endurance in boxing, but for you it’s about realizing that there is no winning in public service. Yes, you can successfully answer a question or provide a service, but that’s what you’re paid to do and it doesn’t affect the next request you’re going to get. You don’t answer a good question and then get to sit out the next few hours. Public service is one hit after another, whether it’s a question, an angry patron or a unique problem. The hits just keep coming regardless of how well you solve one of them. Therefore it’s all about endurance. How much can you take while still standing? Are you going to let it take you down or are you going to hold your own?
“Fate is simply a future that you didn’t change.”
-J. A. Konrath
There have been a number of situations in public service where I’ve felt powerless to fix something. Whether it is a patron who is hopelessly beyond help or a boss who just won’t listen, it can take a toll on the mind. But for all the roadblocks we encounter, there are always ways around them, whether it’s an extra sign on the wall or tricking your boss into answering your question. We need to find ways to change our conditions otherwise we’re stuck in a stagnant pool, waiting to drown.
"A Zombie in possession of brains is said to be in want of more brains."
-Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
I love this quote, not only because it’s funny but also because it makes a lot of sense for public service as well. Zombies are only concerned with one thing; getting what they want, which, in this case, is brains. The public is no different. They come in wanting something and even if you give it to them, they will probably still end up wanting more than you can provide. They are never satisfied (as a whole) and there will always be new problems arising each day. So it can be a tough profession to be in. So in certain scenarios you have to remember this and not hurt yourself trying to please them. Do only what you’re allowed to do and only what you feel comfortable doing. There will be many times where you simply cannot provide the service they require and that doesn’t mean you failed. It just means that this isn’t the place for them to find their answer.
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”
Along the lines of the one above, this quote just symbolizes that you can’t win them all. Some days will be good, some will be bad. That’s just the nature of things, but it’s important to remember the good while you’re experiencing the bad so you know it will eventually end or turn around.
“It is much harder to judge yourself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself, it’s because you are truly a wise man.”
-The Little Prince
You know that phrase ‘the customer is always right’? Well it’s not true. In fact, I would say that the customer is wrong 90% of the time. We only tell them they’re right because we want their money (or the company does and you’re an extension of that company). As customer service employees we are constantly asked the same questions and told how to do our job. While it can be really frustrating, the thing to remember here is that you can’t win an argument against them because of this ‘customer is right’ rule. Maybe you’re lucky and your boss will side with you, but chances are you’re just going to get chewed out for not plastering on a smile. So for this quote, we need to be the better person. A patron isn’t going to step back and realize “hey, maybe I’m totally wrong and this is hard for you”. So you must be the wiser person. This doesn’t mean blowing up at the patron, but rather finding a way to communicate with them or by deflecting their rage onto someone who would have ignored it otherwise. Don’t be mean; be smart.
“A man rarely knows the day and hour when he will die. I could be killed at any moment, and there’s not a blasted thing I can do about it. What will happen will happen, and I wont waste the time I have above ground worrying. Misfortune always comes to those who wait. The trick is to find happiness in the brief gaps between disasters.”
-Roran Stronghammer “Brisingr”
My favorite part of this quote is where he says ‘the trick is to find happiness in the brief gaps between disasters’. This could be a life quote, not just one for public service because bad things always happen. You go through life and your job trying to keep things together when disaster strikes. And you get through those disasters one at a time, but if you spend all of the time in between thinking about the next disaster (or previous one) then you aren’t ever going to enjoy yourself. Find little bits of enjoyment when you can. Either in your time off, lunch breaks or even bathroom breaks. There is happiness to be found in the muck, you just have to make an effort to find it when you can.
“Enemies, are the price of honor.”
-Zeddicus Zul Zorander “Debt of Bones”
It’s true; if you wanted to be the ‘cool’ guy who bends the rules for patrons, just to make them happy, you might get some short term satisfaction, but your boss will probably kill you during the next employee evaluation. If you want to do the honorable thing and follow the rules given to you, you will inevitably make enemies among the patron population. They want something done and they don’t care how it gets done, but there will always be scenarios where you just can’t help them. Doing the honorable thing is hard, but if you want to keep your job and do things right, it is what must be done.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.”
-Prayer in Billy Pilgrim’s office “Slaughterhouse-Five”
I believe this is a much older prayer, but I’m quoting it from Slaughter-house Five because that’s the first place I ever saw it. This one could be used as a ‘commandments of public service’ because it outlines exactly what mentality you need. When you can’t change something, or fix something or help someone, you need to let it go, and you also need to let it go if they blow up in your face about it. But when there are things that you can change, you should make the effort to try. Helping people can be rewarding when crap isn’t hitting the fan, and if you’re stuck in a public service position anyway, you might as well take every opportunity to make it better. And the last part is knowing which situation is which. Know when to accept it and when to fix it and you will be on your way to maintaining your sanity.