Lessons from Wook


Years ago, I dated John Schmidt. We had dated three years before this dating, his dumping me our college freshman year for a senior, but started dating again my college senior year when he realized the error of his ways. A year later, we had broken up again, to probably no one's surprise. I was devastated by the break up, even though I was part of it having moved out of the house we shared and living on my own for the first time in my life.

The break up was so bad for me that my boss, Yosufi, told me the only way to truly heal was to have a clean break. If I wanted to call John, Yosufi told me, I should call him (Yosufi) instead. Didn't matter what time of day or night, he'd talk to me, just call him instead.

So I did.

I also went to a party at Dave's house at Yosufi's insistence, in an attempt to get me out of the dark blue place I had locked myself into. I went, stayed for an hour, and was on my way out the door when I was greeted by this giant of a man (this is how I remember the event) at the door when I opened it. This giant took one look at me, reached over, and gave me a big huge wonderful hug.

I decided not to leave the party.

Instead, I talked to Wook, who had given me that hug and changed everything.

To say my life was instantly better that night after talking to Wook would be lying, but to say my life is better for having Wook as a friend is an understatement. Wook is one of the very few people in the world whom I look up to and have continued to look up to in so many different ways. I don't know that I've told him how much his friendship over the years has meant to me.

Though, I suspect he's about to find out.

I was thinking the other day just how much I've learned from Wook, sometimes by watching his actions, and sometimes by listening. Many of his fundamental characteristics are the same that Kris has, so there must be something to them. And him. Of course.

So, what did I learn from Wook? Lots of things, many of which should probably ben in my letters. In no particular order other than the order I scribbled them down on an index card:

  1. Look people in the eye when you order from them

    When ordering at a restaurant, memorize what you're going to order, then look up at the waiter, the waitress, the person behind the counter, whoever is taking your order, when you make your order. Doesn't seem too difficult, but most people, which is to say just.about.everyone, looks at the menu to order.

    Why? Can't memorize something for 10 seconds?

    I suspect it's more because there's a unconscious class bias to people taking orders, that the person taking the order is a servant or such, and should be talked down to, as if the person were a child. Not the case usually, and that waiter taking your order is a person. Why not treat him as such?

  2. Not all "lowly" positions are

    The janitor. The waitress. The bus driver.

    There are jobs that you can have that require no formal education, that you can stay at for a long time and become very good at doing. Because of these jobs' low barrier to entry, and thus the lower money earned in the positions, the jobs are often filled by people in the lower to lowest socioeconomic class.

    The jobs, however, need to be done. The food won't become harvested if someone isn't there to pick the food. The transient farm laborers who earn very, very little enable the entire modern food chain. Someone needs to clean up the offices and houses and buildings. If janitors weren't available, you'd have to do it, too, or live in squallor. If the taxi or bus driver wasn't driving, you'd have to walk or pay a lot of money to rent or own that car (though, I'd recommend a bike, most airports are not convenient to all locations in their metro areas).

    So, even though the job may not be the glamour job, even though it may be the bottom of the run, it's still essential.

    (Besides, if you had to do it, you'd be bored silly.)

  3. Even those in "lowly" positions deserve respect

    There are examples of people in these "lowly" jobs who probably can not, and thus probably will not, progress beyond these jobs. However, many people in these jobs are there not for lack of aspiration or desire, but for lack opportunity: financial or otherwise. They're on their way through to some place better.

    Regardless of why someone is in that perceived "lowly" place, she is still a person, and deserves to be treated with fundamental respect. Say hello the the janitor, and ask how his day was. Ask the waitress how things are going in her life. Why not ask the cashier how her day has been?

    Helps to look them in the eye when you do it.

  4. Disappointed

    Near the worst thing you can do to a child is tell him how disappointed you are in him. It's worse than a spanking, actually, because it can scar a person for life.

    I'm dealing with my worries of disappointing others and it weighs so heavily on me right now. But to think that my mom might be disappointed in me, or my dad? Oh, that might kill me.

  5. Don't like it? Resist peer pressure and don't do it

    When I was in college, I realized very quickly I didn't like beer. I don't like the bitter taste. I didn't care much for wine either. And hard alcohol? Yuck. There were a couple exceptions to my general rule of disliking alcohol: really expensive vodka that downed like water and the first two wine coolers which never tasted of alcohol.

    Ever other alcoholic drink was in some way gross unless you couldn't taste or feel the alchohol in the drink. At all.

    I did, however, drink alcoholic drinks. That's what you did at parties, right? You drank alcohol and stood around and talked.


    I realized very quickly that Wook didn't like alcohol, either. However, since he didn't like it, he chose not to drink it, instead of succumbing to peer pressure to drink it.

    Hey? What? I can just not drink it? And not look like a total prude?

    Why, yes, yes I could.

    And so, I stopped drinking alcohol once that really sunk in.

    I tried drinking wines on occasion after that, but didn't really drink alcohol for the next ten years.

    I've since found the best wine ever, and that expensive whisky is actually tasty, I do consume some alcoholic drinks, but it's because I want to drink it, because I like it.

    And not because I want my coworkers to like me. Or because the train was serving $120 bottles of wine.

  6. Hire talent not experience, and train

    Skills can be learned. Critical thinking often can't be.

    The first time learning programming concepts is hard (well, it can be if you haven't grown up with logic puzzles or any type of logic training). Learning the syntax of a new language isn't hard. Learning the nuances of a language can be hard, but the process is far easier with the Intarweb™ these days.

    When looking for someone to fill a role at a company, finding the perfect employee is going to be very hard, especially if you're hiring for a specific field without many formal educational resources (and often even if there are such resources available).

    So, instead of hiring with the skill set you need, hire smart people who work well with your group and are intersted in learning, and train them.

    Of course, this works only if you have someone who can train the new people.

  7. Fall down? Get back up.

    Life happens. It it not going to go up all of the time. It's just not.

    So, when bad things happen, and you fall down, get back up, dust yourself off, and keep going. You might have to lean on friends during the process, but that's okay, because you've been there for them to lean on you when they needed it.

    It's the same lesson that ever parent tries to teach his kid. It's a lesson that sinks in only after you have watched it happen or have helped someone else through it.

  8. Convenience is a hard inertia to overcome

    It's very easy to be in life and continue down the road you're going, not looking left or right or seeing what's out there, just continue along this way, do... do.do. And sometimes, in this easy way along life, you might just realize that all is not perhaps as easy as you'd like it to be, whether work or relationships or what-have-you. Or that, crap, you're actually NOT going in the direction that you want to be going.

    That you've been going along this road in cruise control so long makes changing direction difficult. One might say VERY. VERY. HARD. You've been moving this way, along this road, going this direction, and oh, geez, to go in a different direction would be these changes, and those changes, and oh, argh, that would hurt a lot, and oh, maybe it's not worth it and I can just stay along this path because it really is the easiest way to go.

    Uh... yeah.

    Changing direction, effecting change (using the correct affect/effect there, look it up), overcoming inertia: it's not easy.

    But sometimes, it needs to be done.

    And you'll be happier on the other side of change.

  9. Don't enable bad behaviour

    When people around you (coworkers, relatives, friends, neighbors) behave in a bad way, and you don't act to correct to cease the bad behaviour, you are enabling the bad behaviour to continue. It's like complaining about a problem and not doing anything to fix the problem, or presenting a problem without also presenting possible solutions to the problem.

    Sometimes the behaviour/problem isn't one you can fix (say, bad management that works in crisis mode ALL.THE.TIME). In these circumstances where there is nothing you can do to correct the situation, the only choice you have is to leave, to walk away from the problem. Because in walking away, you have removed yourself from enabling the bad behaviour to exist in the first place.

    I'm not explaining this lesson well. Not at all. I'll have to figure that one out some more.

Yeah, I'm sure I'm missing a lot of other lessons from Wook. Been thinking about him a lot recently. Wook is one of those people who makes your life better for his having been in it.

His wedding is one of the events I know already I regret missing.