I’ve always thought that people who claim certain characteristics/beliefs/habits are “deal breakers” are excessively picky. I’ve stood firm in this judgement. One friend in particular has a ton of deal breakers: he’s shorter then I, he’s not successful professionally, he’s an engineer, he has no sense of humor, he doesn’t like Bruce Springsteen, etc. etc. I’ve even said to a few people “hey, maybe you should let up on your deal breakers?”. While doing work exchange at my Yoga Studio, though, I’ve come to the realization deal breakers often represent healthy boundaries.
Work exchange is used by most yoga studios. They offer free yoga in exchange for work shifts. The intent for the studio is to save money and become profitable; a goal I thoroughly support. A 4 hour weekly shift would cost them more, if they were to hire someone, then what they are losing in the membership revenue, so it is a financial win for them. The pay-off for the worker is that in addition to getting free yoga, they get to be in an environment they love, with people they admire.
It is, however, a really difficult way to run a business, which ultimately, a yoga studio is. Instead of hiring 2 or 3 people, teaching them the computer system, customer service and studio maintenance, and having them work 20 – 30 hours each week, they are teaching 16 to 18 individuals who work 4 hours a week, and trying to get the same result. It reminds me of trying to teach my mother to text. She pulls our her phone once a week when I see her, she texts’ a few times, then she puts the phone away until the next week. This is not an effective way to learn! Learning requires repetition. I think it is unreasonable to expect an employee working only 4 hours each week perform at the same level of competence as a paid employee. It’s the old adage: you get what you pay for, which, as a serious bargain hunter, I don’t throw around lightly!
I do not envy the individual hired to oversee work exchange. It seems like an impossible task to fulfill well.
I have agreed to work my hardest for 4 hours each week, and I will do so, but there are some things I can not tolerate, and I have come to realize that these are my boundaries; my deal breakers.
My first deal breaker is the prohibition on checking personal messages. I don’t do it when I’m checking in a class, or actively shutting down the studio, but I reserve the right to do so when all classes have been checked in and there is a lull in activity. I am a single mother, and I will check in with family if necessary when I’m at work. I understand that the owners do not want cell phones at the front desk, and I would never pull mine out and start answering messages during a busy period. However, cell phones are a part of all of our lives, and I reserve the right to check mine when I am not doing anything else. This Monday, I was told, in a public and demeaning manner, “you are not allowed to use your cell phone at the desk”. In my usual fashion, I ignored it, put my phone away and went on to do some cleaning. I will not do that again.
My second deal breaker is being referred to as “work exchange”. Yes, this is my title. This is not, however, my name. I have experienced one too many instances of having an owner say to an Assistant Manager, in my presence, make sure “work exchange” does x, y or z. When I am sitting right there, do not call me “work exchange”. I won’t call you “teacher” or “manager” or “owner”, I will call you by name, and I need you to do the same with me. Anything less is disrespectful.
My third deal breaker is being spoken to like I am in kindergarten. Yes, there are new procedures at the studio all the time and I agree I should learn them. This does not mean that I need to stand at attention while someone reads to me a letter that has gone out via email, offering a discount on a yoga package. Tell me what the package is and how to log it into the the system. Tell me that the student needs to bring the letter in either hard copy or via their cell phone. Do Not read me the email as if I can’t read. I can read.
My final deal breaker is being reprimanded, called out, chastised in front of others. I can tolerate, and expect, to be corrected if I screw up, but not in front of others. Period.
-I will screw up. When I am doing something complex only 4 hours each week, I’ll mess up at times. I don’t think this is unique to me.
-I might do something to annoy you. I might do something that you feel challenges your authority. I may act rude at some point.
I will not do any of these things purposefully.
In fact, I will trip all over myself to do a good job, be accommodating and kind, and fulfill everything expected of me. I will be really nice to your students, I’ll learn their names, I’ll work at understanding and using your computer program and I will up-sell, up-sell, up-sell! I am working for you because I believe in the mission of the studio. I am working for you because I love the teachers, and the students, and the color of the walls and the incense you burn.
I am not perfect. I am going through a difficult divorce, I am suddenly a single mom to three children, I have several health issues, including cancer, and I have things on my mind. I might wander away when you’d rather I be listening. It is not personal, and I will apologize, if you approach me with dignity and respect. I will not apologize any more though if you “chastise” me in a public forum, and I will expect you to understand that my apology does not give you license to treat me like shit.
As it turns out, I am now working at the studio to learn to implement personal boundaries. Had I understood that this was where this commitment would lead, I’m not sure I would have signed up. Implementing personal boundaries for me is terrifying. I’m not really sure why, except that I have the overwhelming sense that if I speak up for myself, all hell will break loose.
Here’s how this would typically play out in my life. I express my boundary. Once I’ve expressed it, I’m barraged with the litany of all of the ways I have poisoned the atmosphere, or the relationship, or in some other way offended the person I am trying to implement boundaries with. When they unload on me, I will automatically think back over all of the times that I have done that “dissed” them, and my sense of shame will shut down any logical thought processes. In my mind I will become the person who is not only the worst employee of the year, but the worst human being of the world. I will remember all of the times that I have done things that could be construed as rude, and I will decide that I subconsciously did them intentionally to Be Rude. I’ll find myself profusely apologizing for My Bad Behavior, rather then holding others accountable for their bad behavior. Ultimately, if this plays out the way it has in the past, I will quit both the job and the studio and, as an added bonus, I’ll have one more example to add to my internal soundtrack of shame, repeating over and over all of the reasons I am a bad Human Being.
I’m going to spend the next few days practicing what I will say if faced with one of My Deal Breakers.
Cell Phone: I understand that you don’t want people using their phones at the front desk and I won’t do so during busy times. I do, though, need to check my phone at some time during my 4 hours here. If this is a Deal Breaker for the studio I’ll give up my shift and go back to being a paying member.
“Work Exchange”: Hey, I’m siting right here. I’d appreciate it if you would speak to me directly and use my name instead of my title. If this is a Deal Breaker for the studio I’ll give up my shift and go back to being a paying member.
Talked down to: I do not envy the job you have, trying to train so many people to perform these constantly changing tasks. It works better for me if you tell me what has changed and where I can get the information, rather then reading this to me. I will do my best to learn all new procedures, but I need to be talked to with respect. If this is a Deal Breaker for the studio I’ll give up my shift and go back to being a paying member.
Chastised/reprimanded in front of others: If you feel you need to address an issue with me I’d appreciate you doing so in private. I know your busy, but this is a Deal Breaker for Me. If you are too busy to approach me in private I’ll give up my shift and go back to being a paying member.
Writing all of this is much easier then saying all of it. I’m guessing that if/when I have to say any of these things my blood pressure will rise, my anxiety will go through the roof and I will probably not sound as civil as I hope. At some point though, I have to learn to stand up for myself without getting ill, or angry, or ashamed. I suspect that if I become able to implement my deal breakers successfully, I’ll be less annoyed when one of my boundaries is violated. I won’t take it as personally as I do now. I think.
Then again, I don’t know much about personal boundaries, so I have no idea how this will actually play out. If I end up at a different yoga studio, I’ll be back to square one.