This is one of the coolest emails I've ever received. Reprinted with permission -
I have recently begun reading your work. I really enjoyed reading and considering "Becoming a Person Who Helps People". I work in an industry that is at the least, very harsh. I am a merchant mariner, female, working with some pretty harsh guys. I'm one of 4 women who work for this company, and the only one under 30 and on a boat. I hold a position of some authority so I gain a bit of "respect" from the title. However, its not enough. The hierarchy on vessels is clear, but gaining the support and trust of your fellow crew members is paramount in a dangerous work environment. My personality clashes often with the harshness of the culture here. There is no room for weakness, real or perceived. However, I am empathetic and nurturing by nature. Helping people is just something I gain great pleasure from, despite the criticism others have for it in my line of work.
Helping people is a great way to create happiness for yourself, and I do so often in small ways. Many people out here can't read or write, or use a computer. Those simple skills I take for granted each day, are unobtainable to some. Men don't want to ask for help, especially from the tiny 100lb girl who outranks them, or works under them. Either way! I make it a point to connect with these people, in small ways like assisting them in writing an email, or typing out a sign they want to post for "Wet Paint", or even asking them how they think a supply locker should be organized when they are the primary users. I read aloud during safety meetings, instead of asking people to read for themselves. I try to consider what others might need, so they don't have to ask. Most others in my position think that I am coddling them, letting them slacking off, or say they need to learn a lesson and read or speak english- any number of negative thoughts surround my simple actions (if they are even noticed that is). Often people accuse me of sleeping with these guys. But at the end of the day, I have a loyal backing of 10 men who would do any work I ask, and give me their best efforts at all times. I ask them to get a job done, I get results. And thats the key for me, I ASK. I never direct, or demand. I say thank you every day, and make a point of commenting on exceptional work or efforts. I bake cookies or make special dinners on long days of work (we all live on the boat for months at a time), because when you're out here you become family whether you like it or not. These guys make me look good, I'm held accountable for their work and I can trust them to perform it. When the other guys in my position demand work be done, its usually half-assed or bullshitted entirely. They yell more, complain more, its a bad cycle. My leadership style, if you can call it that, doesn't work everywhere for sure. But it works for me here, and its infinitely more rewarding to be myself and be kind than to pretend otherwise.
I wish I had the writing/thinking skills you posses because I feel that even writing what I've put down thus far falls short of what I am trying to express.
When you asked the question, $5,000 for $0, or $10,000 for $2,000. I'd pick the 10/2 any day, because I enjoy that relationship every day. I certainly don't expect a return for assisting someone with a "Wet Paint" sign, such a simple task is insignificant when considered singularly. But to a man who speaks only Spanish and is embarrassed to ask anyone else, it means a lot. I never ridicule or mock or even question. You need a sign, I've got it. You need an email or a translation, done. Its amazing to see the natural progression a friendship/professional relationship takes when you offer respect and assistance to people. I've also recently begun practicing my Spanish speaking, I was fluent in high school but let it go in College. Now, I can communicate with more people, and to be honest, I am putting it on my resume. I can't wait to apply for my next job and be able to write "Fluent in Spanish". So for me, offering assistance to these men in the form of minute tasks is giving me an infinitely more valuable return. Looking at it from their point of view, it is reversed-speaking Spanish is so natural to them, that its meaningless compared to the assistance I give to them.
Thank you again for your great work, and putting so much into words that others (myself!) struggle with!! I look forward to reading more of your past posts, and of course those in the future.
Sebastian: That was awesome, thanks for sharing that. Lots of very cool insights there. I've encouraged the author to get a blog! She's incredibly well-written, and I'd like to read more of her insights if she gets time to post them. Cheer thanks for such a great email!
Last week, I wrote "On Getting More Done – Top-down, or bottom up?" -
I described two strategies of getting more done. The first way is to take on a lot of unbreakable commitments and follow through on them, and you'll naturally be forced to optimize to make all of your commitments. So if you play a competitive sport, work full time, study full time, and are helping run a charitable project - well, you'll naturally move fast and optimize your time. If you're the kind of person that always sees unbreakable commitments through, this can work quite well.
The downside is that you risk burning out or crashing. And that's a very real downside.
The other strategy for getting more done would be to gradually reclaim parts of your life. This would be identifying where your time is currently going, and gradually transitioning that time from activities you'd like to do less of into activities you'd like to do more of. I elaborated on this in "Want to read more? Okay, here’s a few ways to do so" -
What does it take to read? Well, you need a book or some sort of words or something. Some light. And – time.
We've been in Panama for two days now, but it seems like weeks. There's obviously still TONS to explore around the city, but I'm already comfortable here and it even feels a bit familiar.
First of all, I love it. For me it has the ideal balance between chaos and structure. It's very safe... people are at least as friendly as they are in the US, if not moreso. They go out of their way to help us and put up with our mediocre Spanish. Our hotel right now isn't in a great area (though not a bad one either), and I feel totally safe walking a few blocks to go to a diner.
Even though it's safe, there don't seem to be a lot of minor enforced rules. Taxi drivers ignore speed limits and stop signs. The drinking and gambling age is 18, but I've heard even that's not enforced. You don't get the feeling that you're being overprotected or treated like a child.
The food has been MUCH better than expected. There are several vegetarian cafeterias that we've found already which are incredibly good and cheap. The one we visited tonight was owned by a very friendly Chinese couple (have you ever heard Chinese people speak Spanish?). There were maybe forty different dishes they had, and a serving of any one was only fifty cents. I asked for orange juice without sugar (most fruit drinks here have sugar) and they fresh squeezed it for me for only $1!